Vanessa Carlton is anything but a sellout. Her Grammy award winning song “A Thousand Miles” is a crowd pleaser, and she knows it. At Monday’s performance at the Great American Music Hall, Carlton described it as the “elephant in the room,” prefacing the fact that her concert would defy expectations.
The old-fashioned feel of the Great American, complete with archaic mirrors and embroidered ceilings coupled with the effective purple and yellow lights, further displayed Carlton’s new alternative sound. She opened with her elephant-in-the-room song, “A Thousand Miles” — however, the rest of Vanessa’s post-big label tracks take on a new alternative genre as opposed to her previous pop-princess nature. After the popular opening, Vanessa moved on to performing her less well-known yet most personal tracks.
There was passion, emotion and beautiful audience connections throughout the night. Vanessa entered the stage only accompanied by one violinist. Their musical combination along with her personal anecdotes sparked fire in the audience’s eyes and hearts and projected hope and empowerment.
Not only does Vanessa reference her own life in her music, but also the lives of others. Before she began “Who’s To Say,” Vanessa prefaced it with, “This song is for everyone who is suffering in the LGBT community,” and continued, “Love is such a sacred community.” Vanessa sang “Who’s to say that this is not our love, Mother don’t tell me” which managed to backup her perspective even more. The audience cheered, some clapping even before the piece started, at her clear passion for human rights, giving her song so much more meaning and symbolism.
“The chronicle of grief is so beautiful,” Vanessa preceded before performing “Fairweather Friend.” The song was influenced by a novel she read while living just outside of Bath, after she split with her major record label. This sentimental touch to an already beautifully tragic song furthered the audience’s connection to her music.
Balancing her connection to her audience, Vanessa also talked about her personal inspiration behind writing her critically acclaimed album Liberman. Behind Vanessa stood a painting of three naked women. Upon first viewing it, many audience members interpreted it as being an additional part of the eclectic ambience but, later on in her set, Vanessa explained its significance in her work. Her grandfather, Alan Lee, painted this and shortly after his death, her grandmother gave it to her and she hung it over her piano. “I started writing really swirly things that felt like a pallet,” Vanessa proclaimed. “I was channeling my grandfather’s aesthetic. I wanted to bring to light my family’s actual name.”
Vanessa shared this piece of advice with her audience members before continuing, “Liberman is inspired by painting. Like a dream. Go there with us.” After this request, Vanessa plunged straight into her 2015 album without pauses. The lights previously focused on the stage circled through the audience, giving Vanessa a view of her loyal fans and allowing her fans to be a part of her show, or as she phrased it, her “dream.”
Her final song “Marching Line” was a heartfelt and personal sentiment, and it echoed a lot of the fear the world is currently facing. It brought the audience together, swaying in unison, just like an actual marching line. The audience enjoyed her final number so much that cheering did not stop until she came out for an encore. Vanessa began with her popular track “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride,” dedicated to her husband, making the audience roar with laughter and gather toward the stage in anticipation for the remainder of her encore, a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz.”
Vanessa’s personal anecdotes and reflections completely altered the audience’s interpretation of her set. Carlton’s performance was breathtakingly beautiful, and her passionate stories and fierceful piano playing told a whole other side of the artist’s music that otherwise would have been left undiscovered. It goes without saying that every single member in that audience would walk a thousand miles to hear Vanessa play again.