BERKELEY — Sometimes everything just lines up. Something happens between an artist and the audience, and between the audience and the artist; something about the venue is just right; something in the artist’s life inspires just a little extra. On the first of her two nights at Hearst Greek Theatre, Brandi Carlile had everything line up.
The result was a nearly perfect show that wove through alt-country, rock, folk and Americana, giving something to everyone without ever feeling disjointed. Carlile and her band seemed to genuinely be having a great time, and that joy and enthusiasm spread to the crowd.
“The last time I was here I was opening for the Avett Brothers,” she said early in her set. “I love this venue. I just never thought I’d be the one standing on this stage when the sun went down.”
Flanked by her longtime collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar and bass, respectively, and backed by a drummer, pianist and string trio, Carlile began with “Hold Out Your Hand” and “Wherever Is Your Heart” before getting started with the thread that held the show together through its tonal and genre changes: her compelling storytelling.
“I was busking at Pike Place Market [in Seattle] doing lesbian folk music; lots of Indigo Girls,” she said to loud cheers from the crowd, while explaining how she got started working with the identical twin Hanseroth brothers. She went on to say they began doing “extremely uncool” three-part harmonies in late ‘90s Seattle before demonstrating an example of how cool it can be with “The Eye.”
But the show really got started when she told the crowd about Joni Mitchell.
As Carlile tells it, the night before she show she and British singer Sam Smith visited Joni Mitchell at her home.
“Sam and I sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’” Carlile said. “Joni said it was the gayest thing she had seen in her entire life.”
In honor of the meeting she sang a cover of Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and did a fantastic job with an especially difficult song.
Carlile then brought out her opening act, Lucius—more on them later—to join the group in one of its songs. That preceded her launching into a powerhouse cover of Heart’s “Alone” that put the original to shame. From the joy and passion in the three singers’ voices to Hanseroth’s guitar solo, everything about the song hit the mark. It left Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig visibly emotional by the time it was done.
Closing out the main set with a version of “Pride and Joy” that very nearly veered into hard rock without losing the spirit of the album version, Carlile and her band brought the house down and capped a brilliant set.
Opening the show was the aforementioned Lucius, who on this night were wearing identical, extremely sparkly costumes. The duo stood at center stage, facing each other, singing into two vertically stacked microphones on a single stand, a configuration possible because of their significant height difference.
Their indie pop set was a mixture of the best aspects of ‘70s and ‘80s pop music, with a dash of the early ‘60s thrown in here and there. They quickly won the crowd over through the set, even before dedicating a cover of “True Love Will Find You in the End” to Daniel Johnston, who they sang with just six months ago.