Brandi Carlile has visited Salt Lake City many times over the years, but in each and every appearance she manages to surprise and delight.
This year, in keeping with the rootsy aesthetic of her fourth album, "Bear Creek," Carlile and her five-piece backing band unplugged themselves to become what the 31-year-old Washington state resident called "The Ragtime Band." It was a unique, and charming, detour from the ordinary.
With mandolin, stand-up bass and fiddle, the six musicians put on an acoustic hootenanny that encompassed her songs "Keep Your Heart Young," "Save Part of Yourself" and a radically different Appalachian take on a sweet ode to her niece, "Caroline," which had been recorded on her third album with her musical idol, Elton John. To cap it all off, Carlile finished the middle part of the set alone on acoustic guitar with "Looking Out."
In between, the rest of the Sunday night show was another lovefest between the crowd at the sold-out Red Butte Garden and Carlile. Much of Carlile's banter was directed at how the band had been looking forward to the gig and was "over the moon" to be there. With the concert at the end of one tour leg, she told the audience that she wanted "to rock your face off tonight."
And while my nose stayed affixed to my face all night, Carlile put on another show that was unpredictable and above all, fun. She teased the crowd with a snippet of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" before launching into "Before It Breaks." Later in the show, she yodeled her way through The Beatles' "Abbey Road," the torch song "Oh! Darling," and even Queen's dizzying, dynamic "Bohemian Rhapsody," including the operatic middle, which proved no challenge for her octave-spanning soprano.
What made the night so special was the new songs from "Bear Creek." Usually when an artist tells the crowd that they want to play songs from a recent album, it's a sign that it's time to go to the bathroom. But "Bear Creek" is by leaps and bounds her most melodic, fierce, accessible and anthemic album yet. And even though it was just released on June 1, songs such as "Hard Way Home," "Raise Hell" and "100" were given different arrangements that showcased her newly found dedication to Americana.
Carlile closed the 100-minute show alone onstage, performing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," dedicating it to the venue as crickets chirped around her. Bathed in violet lights from stage right and left, as well as from the rafters, it was fitting way to end the Sabbath.