Brandi Carlile’s L.A. Dreams Comes True At The Hollywood Bowl REVIEW: Brandi Carlile & Old Crow Medicine Show @ Hollywood Bowl 8/20/16
HOLLYWOOD, CA- The Hollywood Bowl. Its storied stage has featured some of the world’s finest talent. Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, Luciano Pavarotti, Jimi Hendrix … It’s every aspiring, Los Angeles based musician’s dream to play a set on that historic stage. On August 20th, 2016, Performing the final concert of their joint tour, two more names were added to that list: Old Crow Medicine Show and Brandi Carlile.
Kicking off the evening of Americana were the mountain music revivalists; Old Crow Medicine Show. They wasted no time in firing up the audience with their infectious take on traditional folk and bluegrass sounds.
The modus operandi for this band was established early with their simple proclamation of, “Let’s dance!” The fiddle play was electric, the dueling banjos were riveting, and the jigs … oh the jigs. The whole audience whooped and hollered with encouragement whenever one of the band members kicked his legs out to jig. My guest for the evening giggled and suggested the band must have taken tap classes.
They continued the jovial party atmosphere by dedicating a song to the “great state of intoxication”, and proceeded to preach the mantra of “wine, whiskey, women and guns” with “Humdinger”. During this song’s performance, each member of the band had an individual moment to sine, whether with instrumental solos or crisp vocal harmonies that resonated throughout the venue.
Though she was the evening’s headliner, dressed in a poncho and walking barefoot towards center stage to the deafening cheers of the audience, Brandi Carlile joined Old Crow for a sweet rendition of the “Angel From Montgomery.” During the song’s harmonica solo, Brandi swayed and danced with a calming freedom on stage with her poncho flowing about her. Ketch Secor and Brandi sounded absolutely heavenly together on this soothing duet. Brandi performed one more song with Old Crow (the bluesy “CC Rider”) before she leaving the stage to let Old Crowd finish their set.
As she walked off stage, Ketch told the crowd, “We’re gonna test the acoustics in this historic venue and do it like they used to.” Sound tech staff carried what looked like old school microphones from the “good old days” to center stage. Four of the band members created a semi-circle around the old-school omni-directional microphones and using only a ukulele for instrumental accompaniment, they sang in perfectly tuned four part harmony a selection of songs that concluded with the Woodie Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land”. The sound was so classic, and it felt like a throw back to the “golden years” when the audience joined in to sing the “This land if your land, this land is our land” refrain. When the lyric “California” was sung, the Los Angeles crowd released a booming cheer.
Old Crow Medicine Show couldn’t perform at the Hollywood Bowl without performing their signature song, “Wagon Wheel”, and they performed the crowd favorite as their last song. The song may have had new life with Darius Rucker’s cover from a few years ago, but this song is over a decade old, and Old Crow owns it (editors note: In case you didn’t know, the one and only Bob Dylan is a co-writer of this gem).
The chorus, so memorable and catchy, was clearly known by all in the audience and when Ketch asked the audience to sing along, they did so ever so willingly. It was a truly special moment, and the band listened to the audience in awe as Ketch could only smile and say, “You guys sound so good.”
Old Crow set the table perfectly for the lovely Ms. Carlile. With the audience already in a festive mood, Brandi struck awe into the audience with a huge opening performance of “Again Today”. With its gradual crescendo which emphasizes the powerfully emotional lyrics, the frenetically flashing lights during the the songs climax, and Brandi’s voice booming though the speakers; it was stadium worthy performance with stadium worthy stage production. With the last note of the piece, the stage lights went down; almost as if to give the audience the chance to catch its breath from the magnificence it had just witnessed.
When lights came back up, Brandi looked out into the audience with a giddy look of disbelief.
“All right. Oh my god. Are we really playing the Hollywood fucking bowl? What? There must be some kinda mistake.”
After performing “Hard Way Home”, she took another beat to take in the moment. After mentioning that she felt overwhelmed being on the Hollywood Bowl stage, the stage manager raised the house lights to reveal to Brandi who it was she was talking to. Squinting out in the vastness, her amazement was written on her face:
“Wow. I just thought it was a mountain up there. Our first gig was at the Hotel Cafe. We never imagined this.”
Whether it was preplanned or not, Brandi performed the perfectly appropriate “‘Wherever Is Your Heart”. Even though she originally hails from Washington, it felt like she was singing to us and when she sang the lyrics “Wherever is your heart I call home”, it truly felt like she was at home, in Los Angeles, on that grand stage.
Brandi then introduced two of her bandmates, the Hanseroth twins; Tim and Phil. She stated that the band worshiped at the alter of Crosby, Stills and Nash and then segued into a performance of her song “The Eye”. I”m sure that Crosby, Stills and Nash would have approved.
Brandi and her band played another song before inviting some of Old Crow Medicine Show back to the stage to perform The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feelling”. Clearly Brandi developed a bond with Old Crow as thanked them and told the audience, “I don’t know what to say about those guys,” with the warmest of smiles.
Brandi then treated the Hollywood Bowl audience to a performance of a new song titled “The Mother”. She told the audience about the complexities of having a child with her wife, and how her daughter is both amazing and, with a laugh, a nightmare. She explained that “The Mother” is about her truth as a lesbian and experience with motherhood:
“I got a daughter Evangeline […] She’s amazing, she’s a nightmare. I’ve got a wife […] It’s complicated. I’m a songwriter and I’m out here to tell you the truth.”
A simple acoustic performance, this was my favorite part of the concert. It was story telling at its finest. She continued the story telling, literally, with a performance of “The Story”, and performed “Mainstream Kid” to finish her own songs from the setlist.
The finale and encores were covers of crowd favorites “Going to California” (Led Zeppelin), Jolene (Dolly Parton, who Brandi called a punk rocker at heart) and “Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash), but all those songs were the desert for the evening’s musical feast. What makes Brandi so special- special enough to start humbly with gigs at the intimate Hotel Cafe and end up here at the Hollywood Bowl- are her songs, the lyrics she writes and the stories she tells. Before playing “The Story” Brandi said:
“First time I ever set foot on an airplane it was to LA. With two pairs of jeans and and a bunch of unwritten songs.”
I’m glad you finished those songs, Brandi. Especially in Los Angeles 😉