There was a moment during “Party of One,” the final track on Brandi Carlile’s new album and also the last song of her set during Tuesday night’s “Austin City Limits” taping at ACL Live, that captured her perfectly. Seated at the piano, she looked across the stage at her remarkable band — the core players supplemented for this occasion by a string quartet — and gave in completely to the moment, lost amid the melodic beauty of the music and overcome with a blissful, peaceful smile.
She has a lot to be happy about, and a lot to be proud of with “By the Way, I Forgive You,” which ACL executive producer concurred is the best record of her career in his brief introduction of the Seattle singer-songwriter. Carlile had been on the program once before, in 2010 after releasing her third album. This time around, she focused heavily on the new record, which came out in February and reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200, her highest-charting album to date.
Nine of the set’s 14 songs came from “By the Way, I Forgive You,” an emotional tour de force that deals with personal changes in Carlile’s life, perhaps most of all her entry into motherhood. “The Mother,” one of the new record’s most poignant tracks, was a highlight on Tuesday evening, in part because it began with her too-cute-for-words young daughter Evangeline strolling out onto the stage to give her mom a hug and a kiss. “We’ve got a rule,” Carlile explained, that if her daughter wants to, “she can come onstage and get a kiss.”
Carlile also made a point of underscoring how important her longtime bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth — twin brothers on guitar and bass, respectively — are to her music. The brothers have been deeply involved in the writing of Carlile’s music since her 2005 self-titled debut. Introducing the song “The Eye,” a trio-harmony spotlight from 2015’s “The Firewatcher’s Daughter,” Carlile said that despite her name being out front, “these guys could front the band on their own.”
Carlile frequently wore her social politics on her sleeve. She noted before “The Mother” that it was meant for parents of all kinds, from straight to gay to transgender. Introducing “The Joke,” the new album’s first single, she said she wrote it as an anthem for “unloved, unaccepted, unnatural, illegal” people who are all too often overlooked or cast aside.
A late-set charge through Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” made clear the influence he’s had on her music, and perhaps on her fashion sense as well: Though she was dressed mostly in black, she joked that her choice of shiny turquoise shoes was a nod to John’s flamboyant style. The down side to the drawn-out “Madman” jam was it meant fewer songs from her own catalog in the set, which included only one number from her first three records. (That was perhaps understandable, since her first “Austin City Limits” appearance focused on that material.)
Concerned about a loud noise in the studio during the opening “Every Time I Hear That Song” and her own insecurity about her vocal performance on “The Eye,” Carlile opted to do both songs over again in the encore. Closing with the new album’s “Hold Out Your Hand,” she dedicated it to a younger generation of activists who seem to embody the song’s key lyric of determination in the face of adversity: “The devil can’t get my soul.”
Before the show began, Lickona announced that the date for the fifth annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame show will be Oct. 25, with last year’s acclaimed host Chris Isaak returning as emcee. Inductees and performers will be announced at a later date.
1. Every Time I Hear That Song
2. Raise Hell
3. The Eye
4. The Mother
5. The Joke
6. Hard to Forgive
8. Mainstream Kid
9. Most of All
10. Madman Across the Water
11. The Story
12. Whatever You Do
13. Party Of One
14. Every Time I Hear That Song (retake)
15. The Eye (retake)
16. Hold Out Your Hand