Concert Review: Brandi Carlile with Nashville Symphony

“I used to be afraid to come here, but now I feel like you’re family,” Brandi admitted to a sold out Schermerhorn crowd last night as she shared the stage with the Nashville Symphony. As if Carlile’s voice wasn’t powerful enough, fans already had an expectation of the depth that the symphonic orchestration would add to Carlile’s catalog after hearing 2011’s live release with the Seattle Symphony … expectations that Carlile consistently exceeded during her 20-plus song set.

Joking that she was her own opening act, Carlile and the Twins (Phil and Tim Hanseroth) opened up the more than two hour performance with Bear Creek starter “Hard Way Home.” When Carlile sings sometimes I lose my faith in luck/don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up in the opening lines, you can’t help but feel that Carlile has already grown up and whether she knows it or not, she’s a star.

Carlile and the Twins worked through a few more tracks including a completely unplugged version of “What Can I Say” from Carlile’s self-titled 2005 debut. Carlile and the Twins harmonized perfectly, filling the Schermerhorn Symphony Center with more than just their raw voices, the bar was set for the evening as Carlile received the first of many standing ovations.

The Twins exited, leaving just Carlile on the stage to wrap up the opening act with a soul-stirring piano solo of “Before it Breaks” and a Nash-inspired cover.

“I call Nashville the Mothership,” Carlile said. “This is where my music comes from … this will be the first and last time I play this song.” Armed with just her guitar, Carlile performed a heartbreaking cover of the George Jones’ classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” receiving the second of her standing ovations.

Since 2005 I’ve seen Carlile nearly a dozen times. From my introduction at the Paste Rock ‘N’ Reel Festival and intimate Eddie’s Attic performances to The Melting Point in Athens, where they filmed the “Dying Day” video footage, Carlile was only six songs in to what I was sure was going to be the best show I had ever seen from her.

After a brief intermission, the Nashville Symphony took the stage with Carlile following shortly. They opened this portion of the show much like its Seattle counterpart, with a cover of Elton John’s “Sixty Years On.” After this and “Oh Dear,” Carlile and crew switched gears for a few up-tempo numbers including the rowdy stomper “Raise Hell” and crowd favorite “Dreams.”

Other highlights from this portion of the show included Bear Creek standout “Keep Your Heart Young,” a track that Carlile called one of her favorite country and western songs … and it was of course written by the Hanseroth brothers.

Carlile shared quite a few stories with the crowd, none eliciting a greater response than when she announced that she was recently married. Regardless of her announcement, that didn’t stop a zealous audience member from shouting for Carlile to take her shirt off. Carlile laughed, remarked at how original that was and continued playing.

Carlile also shared the experiences of working with one of her idols, Paul Buckmaster. Best known for his arrangements of early Elton John tracks, Buckmaster contributed to the orchestral arrangements for Carlile’s Live at Benaroya Hall album. Up to this point, the orchestral arrangements mostly just accented Carlie’s arrangements. When Carlile began to sing “Shadow on the Wall” the full effect of weaving the two styles hit a high point.

Carlile continued to reach higher and higher throughout the evening as she performed Bear Creek lead single “That Wasn’t Me,” a song which she says she couldn’t perform without thinking of the women at the correctional facility she plays at every holiday. While she joked that there was nothing Folsom about it and that she sang on a table, she remarked that although these women were incarcerated they were some of the freest people she’d ever met.  

The perfect chemistry of classical instrumentation and Carlile hit a pinnacle with what may be Carlile’s most successful single to date, “The Story.” It was performance that one fan, Sarah McGee, took to Twitter to share that the performance brought them to tears. While Carlile’s ability to effortlessly switch gears from vulnerability to full throated confidence was exhibited all night long, it was this capstone performance where it all made perfect sense. Carlile can not only sing … she can sang, which the audience recognized with another standing ovation.

And that could’ve been enough for the evening but not for this show. Carlile remarked that we needed to make this annual thing, which audience members cheered to. Carlile and the Twins came back out on stage to perform the first of two covers. I’ve heard Carlile cover everything from Radiohead and Patsy Cline to Johnny Cash, but her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U’ might have just been my favorite ever. 

Sure, Sinead O’Connor defined that song in the very late 80s/early 90s but Carlile transformed the track into an acoustic treasure with her powerhouse vocals. Her delivery oozed authenticity and when she hit the third verse I believed that those flowers had really died in the backyard and Carlile may have died along with them.

Carlile’s encore also include “Pride and Joy” and a show-stopping version of a cover she’s been playing since 2005—if not before. Carlile has always been one of the best singer I have heard cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and last night may have been her best performance yet.

Carlile teetered on the line of mainstream success with the release and subsequent Grey’s Anatomy backing of “The Story.” After last night’s performance, I’m glad Carlile is still a secret—albeit a secret I was more than happy to share with 2,000 friends last night. Did Carlile say let’s make this an annual thing? Well Carlile, if you do, we will all be back.

Set List*

Brandi and the Twins

Hard Way Home

Dying Day

A Promise to Keep

What Can I Say

Before it Breaks

He Stopped Loving Her Today (George Jones Cover)


Brandi and Symphony

Sixty Years On

Oh Dear

Raise Hell


I Will

Keep your Heart Young

Looking Out

Shadow on the Wall




That Wasn’t Me

The Story


Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince Cover)

Pride and Joy

Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)


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