Some shows you mark on your calendar months out, like the epic Pearl Jam show Friday night that was undoubtedly the hottest ticket in town this week.
Brandi Carlile’s thrilling set at the Tractor Saturday was not planned. She stepped in at the last minute for The Lone Bellow, but despite the late notice tickets sold out in a flash, with locals cognizant of the rare opportunity to see Carlile in such an intimate setting.
It didn’t used to be that way for Carlile and her fans. There was a time, Carlile recalled, before the days of social media when she struggled to fill just part of the Tractor, but that was before she was recognized as one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation.
So forgive Carlile for racing on stage Saturday, her fist raised in the air as the Tractor crowd roared its approval, and announcing: “This feels so weird!”
A fan screamed back at her: “This feels so good!” And it did. Carlile launched into a smoky version of “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac to start things off and got three songs into her set before announcing that since the show was so last minute the band did not create a set list and instead had “a bunch of question marks.”
To the delight of the crowd, Carlile decided the best way to answer those questions was to take requests from the audience. “Throw It All Away,” with its initial restraint and soaring chorus, was the first request and proved the band (twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth handled bass and guitar duties with Josh Neumann on cello) had no qualms digging deep into its four-album catalog.
The affection the crowd had for Carlile was evident, with many adoring fans singing along the whole night. Songs like “Dying Day,” from 2009′s “Give Up The Ghost,” became knowing winks and inside jokes between old lovers.
One standout moment came as someone requested an “unplugged” version of “What Can I Say,” which provided a truly tender scene as the crowd quieted to a hush and the stage lights dimmed. Carlile and her bandmates stood at the very edge of the stage and held the room rapt as Carlile did her best to project her voice.
“Have You Ever,” from 2007′s “The Story,” provided another chance for Carlile to prove just what a great singer she is, while George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was interspersed with a story about meeting a woman in prison.
She closed her main set with “The Story,” one of her biggest hits, after noting that the band had lost track of time and played longer than they intended. But Carlile and her fans weren’t done rekindling their romance and she came back out for one more, the anthemic “Pride and Joy,” which culminated in a swirling mass of guitars and Neumann’s propulsive cello.
“Do I make you proud?” Carlile sang. “Do you get me now?”
After nearly a decade together, Carlile and her fans know the answer.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails
Notes: Aoife O’Donovan opened and helped get the freezing night a little warmer with her summer jam “Red & White & Blue & Gold,” which was brought new life thanks to local musician Eli West sitting in on the pedal steel . . . Longtime Carlile friend Michael Giacolino also played but had trouble grabbing the pro-Carlile crowd’s attention . . . Those who chose to sing-along with Carlile acquitted themselves nicely . . . The show wasn’t the marathon three-hour Pearl Jam set but did end pretty late — well past 12:45 a.m.