A trend in live music that has lasted for arguably as long as it’s worth remembering is that of an encore. All across the musical spectrum, artists generally save their biggest hits, or most popular songs, for last. It took Vanessa Carlton upwards of one minute on stage to break that trend during her show on April 4.
Carlton, whose debut single “A Thousand Miles” cracked the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2002, began her set with that signature song, in order to, in her own words, “get the elephant out of the room.”
In her first show at the Soiled Dove, located on East 1st Avenue in Denver, Carlton was joined onstage by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Skye Steele, who provided backing vocals while alternating between the violin, his main instrument, and both acoustic and electric guitars. Carlton observed Steele on the violin during a show at a New York City club in 2007 and shortly thereafter, asked him about touring with her.
Fast forward a decade later, and the 10 years that the two have performed and gotten to know each other personally, and musically, became very evident in the way they played together.
The Soiled Dove was a perfect venue for Carlton. Its maximum capacity is 300 people, and all seats in the house are no more than 45 feet away from the stage, making for a very intimate experience between artist and audience.
Carlton’s current tour is in support of her new live mini-album entitled Earlier Things Live, which dropped back in February. Its content consists of songs that predate her 2015 studio album Liberman.
As the lights dimmed and the audience applauded her arrival, Carlton walked onstage with a glass of water in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, jokingly commenting that the perfect balance between hydration and libation was like one of her yoga classes.
Not all artists have a solid stage presence and in the case of some musicians, their stage presence is arguably better than their musical skill set. The audience at the Soiled Dove was exposed to the best of both worlds in watching Vanessa Carlton perform on Monday night.
A theme of the show that became evident very early on in her performance was Carlton’s ability to transport the audience to wherever she was while recording or writing a given song. For every song she played, Carlton had accompanying facts or a backstory as a prelude.
Take for example the song “Fairweather Friend,” which was the fourth track on Carlton’s 2011 album, Rabbits on the Run. It was the third song that Carlton played, and she explained to the audience that it was written after an experience in which she discovered that a former partner of hers was being unfaithful.
Rabbits on the Run sparked a change in the direction of Carlton’s career and set the tone for Liberman, which is Carlton’s first concept album.
“I left the major label machine in 2008, and that’s when I really started getting my feet under me in terms of being a recording artist,” she said. “There was this huge shift in my process. It was almost like more a reveal of what my aesthetic actually is … everything came into full focus with the start of Rabbits on the Run.”
Liberman got its title by a painting of the same name made by her grandfather, which he completed in 1963.
“Liberman was the second album I’ve done outside of the ‘machine,'” she said. “It’s in a way my baseline album, just in terms of the concepts. There’s a clear vision of what I wanted it to sound like. I think that reflects a clear vision of where I’m at.”
Carlton played her entire set with a replica of Liberman draped in the background. The presence of it, as well as the album itself, honors her family’s Jewish heritage.
Midway through the show, Carlton admitted that her set list for the night was significantly tweaked in regards to the 26 shows that she had completed thus far on her current tour.
“Who’s to Say,” off of her sophomore album, 2004’s Harmonium, serves as a reminder to members of the LGBTQ community to never doubt their self worth.
Throughout the set, in addition to playing instruments, Steele stayed busy by layering Carlton’s voice for choruses. He also added an occasional drum beat and rhythm guitar track to songs.
When she began playing material from Liberman, Carlton invoked the audience to let their minds wander to a place of comfort as she hit the opening notes to “Take it Easy,” the opening track of the album.
As she played the final song of her set, Carlton sipped on her drink and proclaimed “I’m drinking wine because I’m a dangerous woman. In Denver!” She soon returned to stage for her encore following a warm ovation by the crowd.
The first song of her encore was “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride,” from Rabbits on the Run. Carlton dedicated it to her husband John McCauley, of the band Deer Tick.
For the final song of her encore, Carlton sang a harmonious rendition of the song “Mercedes Benz,” which was written and recorded by Janis Joplin in 1970.
Carlton enlisted the help of her opening act, Tristen, a singer and songwriter from Lansing, Illinois, who has accompanied Carlton on her tour this year. The vocal execution was flawless; Joplin would have been impressed.
Who knows what is in the cards for Carlton as her career continues to evolve. She may never release another hit on the level of “A Thousand Miles,” but the beauty of that possibility is that it doesn’t seem like she cares.
What makes Carlton such a pleasure to experience live is that there are no question marks surrounding her music and motives. The journey that has been her career has had joy and melancholy mixed with success and a lack thereof. But through her experiences, Carlton has evolved to a point to where she knows who she is as an artist and thus makes music for the right reasons.
For information on Carlton’s 2017 tour, visit http://www.vanessacarlton.com.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.