So here’s something totally unexpected at a Brandi Carlile concert: a rousing cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Midway through her Sunday night set, after teasing the crowd of 1,739 at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park with a snippet of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” while seated at the piano, Carlile and her band fashioned what can only be described as a soaring, female-fronted rendition of the iconic 1976 hit that stayed true to the essence of the song while giving it a distinct Carlile slant.
“Thank you for indulging us,” Carlile crowed afterward, to roars from fans. “I’ve been wanting to do that song on stage since I was about 10.”
Of course, what’s usually expected at a Carlile concert – her third appearance at Meijer Gardens since 2009 – is precisely what the amphitheater audience delivered: Uber-enthusiastic fan response to pretty much everything Carlile and her five piece band (featuring “the twins,” Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar and bass, respectively) trotted out during the 1-hour-and-36-minute show, from lively material such as “Hard Way Home,” “That Wasn’t Me” and “Keep Your Heart Young” gleaned from her brand new album, “Bear Creek,” to the older-but-oh-so-familiar “The Story” and “Dreams.”
They cheered and whistled robustly at everything: when the musicians gathered in a circle to go semi-acoustic with their “ragtime band,” when Carlile introduced Phil Hanseroth’s baby daughter, Emily, wearing headphones at side stage, when Carlile talked about recording her “wild, crazy” new record, when she got the audience, as usual, to provide multi-part harmonies, when she took an audience vote during the encore and eventually chose Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” to close out the concert.
“I love our fans, man,” Carlile confessed.
The singer-songwriter draws the sort of devotees who can’t contain their ardor, leaping and pumping fists whether they’re all by themselves or squished into the throngs gathered at the foot of the stage.
There’s good reason for this passionate display: Her well-seasoned band (guitar, bass, drums, cello and violin, with Carlile shifting between guitar and piano) breathes real life into her rootsy melodic rock, which drifts toward an infectious brand of alt-country and folk
And these days, Carlile’s expanded catalog of tunes allows her to paint a more variegated, commanding musical portrait. (See more photos of the show at MLive.com here.)
It helped immensely, of course, that last week’s heat waved had faded away by Sunday. If the weather has ever been more perfect for an amphitheater show, I’m not sure I’ve seen it in 10 years of Meijer Gardens summer concerts.
Carlile certainly noticed, expressing appreciation for the chance to return to the picturesque venue. “What a great night this has been for us,” she gushed at one point.
Concertgoers are hoping for yet another “great night” on Monday when Fiona Apple takes her turn on the amphitheater stage. But on Sunday, it was Carlile’s chance to do the expected as well as the unexpected, crafting a summer rhapsody well worth experiencing.
A veteran journalist and former music writer for The Grand Rapids Press, John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of LocalSpins.com, profiling regional artists and commenting on West Michigan's music scene. He hosts "Local Spins Live" on News Talk 1340 AM in Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, with a preview at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays on WLAV-FM (96.9). He also hosts the hour-long "Local Spins on WYCE" at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE-FM (88.1).
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