Brandi And Vienna Belt It At The National
I don’t always get excited for the opening act of music shows. I’m usually there to see the artist I came for, and Sunday’s was Brandi Carlile at The National. So I was pleasantly surprised by her opener last night: Vienna Teng and Alex Wong. They certainly had a sparse setup–she on vocals and keyboard, and he doing percussion and backup vocals but they employed looping successfully, giving their twosome a much fuller sound.
Teng’s voice was crisp and lovely, and my companion commented that she played the piano with such energy. Wong’s vocals were a nice harmony. One of my favorite songs was a piece she said was inspired by Dolly Parton. After hearing such a pretty voice out of her so far, I was awed at how well she pulled off a charming and characteristic Parton twang.
Our seats ended up being pretty high up, but the nice thing about The National is that anyone can stand at the bar area in the back of the main floor and get a pretty nice view, so that’s where we spent most of our time. Headliner Brandi Carlile is known for her folk/country/rock and powerful voice. The singer-songwriter from Seattle has a large lesbian following, and the 29-year-old herself is gay, a fact about her you don’t find easily. In interviews, she says she thinks it neither helps nor hinders her, that she’s been out since age 15, but that interviewers tend not to ask about it. Only recently has she been featured by gay media, something she said never occurred to her until she accompanied friend and fellow musician Amy Ray from The Indigo Girls to interviews.
The audience was one of the more appreciative ones I’ve seen, and Carlile was clearly grateful for it. In skin-tight jeans, black top, wavy brown hair and trademark armband, you couldn’t take your eyes off her. I coveted her beauty and her voice. As my friend said, she’s mastered “the crack”–the ability to get her voice past her range’s normal end point. She uses her vocal crack to her advantage, accentuating her warble-y, sometimes yodel-y voice and country roots.
Carlile declares early-on that the space seems perfect for an unplugged song, and organizes in a semicircle with band mates, sans microphone, as she often does on tour. As big as The National is, their sound fills the space decently, and having to lean in to hear them engenders a certain intimacy.
Joined by longtime band mates, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth (on guitar and bass, respectively), cellist Josh Neumann, a keyboardist, and a drummer, Carlile plays guitar as well, which contributes to a fine, full sound.
She tells us about her collaboration with Elton John on her latest album, “Give Up The Ghost.” John is one of her childhood heroes, and she’s clearly wowed by him. He asked her what she’d been listening to lately and she admitted she didn’t know that much current music. She relays that next thing she knows; Elton’s sent 100 records to her house, inspiring her to realize that, “timelessness happens all the time, not just in the past.”
The audience was encouraged to join in with three part harmony in “Turpentine,” something Carlile does at many of her shows. Ending her set with “The Story,” probably her most well-known song, she and her band return after thunderous applause for a few more songs, including a Johnny Cash cover.
Emotion-filled music sung by talented ladies with audience rapport and warm jokes was a great way to end my weekend. I’ve been listening to their music non-stop since.
Photo by Jeremy Cowart.
Holly Gordon is the Lifestyle section editor and a board member of GayRVA. An advocate for GLBT equality and lover of all things RVA, she works in non-profit and is a freelance writer.
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