Eyes Without Faces: Vanessa Carlton at City Winery
    • WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 02, 2015

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    A great concert can be a lot of things. It can be a show with a band in which a host of personal memories are tied. It can be a show where a band you don't know all that well takes you on a powerful ride of emotion. A band can simply rock the f*** out and that does the trick. And, occasionally, the sheer craft of a performer wins you over. Even if "A Thousand Miles" hadn't been one of the biggest hits of the early 2000s, Vanessa Carlton's sheer craft and technique last night at City Winery would have been enough to win over any crowd. When she plays the piano (and is accompanied by haunting strings), it's magic.

    2015 saw the release of Carlton's fifth studio album, the excellent Liberman. A remarkable maturation of Carlton's sound, Liberman showed the 35 year old songwriter expanding the sonic pallette of her sound with complex loops and production tricks. For an artist known for her piano melodies and light orchestral arrangements, the addition of that sort of production might be a red flag, but on Liberman, it manifests itself as a natural progression of Carlton's sound. And Tuesday night at City Winery, Vanessa Carlton put on a masterclass of composition, live performance, and translating complex studio loops in a live environment.

    Vanessa Carlton put on one of the best shows from a sheer musical perspective that I've heard all year, and the emphasis there is on the word "heard." For reasons I don't fully comprehend, the press were seated at a table where we either couldn't see Vanessa Carlton at all if she was at her main piano or we could only see the back of her head when she was at her second piano. I didn't see Vanessa Carlton's face once the entire evening. And if Vanessa's performance hadn't been so tightly constructed and beautiful, that could have wound up being a dealbreaker. It's fortunate then that Vanessa Carlton is a consummate pro and between her voice, the piano, and the man accompanying her on violin, the audience at City Winery (myself included) were hypnotized by her music.

    At one point, I thought to myself, I could listen to Vanessa Carlton and the pianist play all night. She didn't even have to sing (although that was a beautiful bonus). Their melodies ring with mathematical precision and astonishing beauty. Liberman feels like it could be a more baroque Beach House record. It revels in complexity tied to intimate emotions and vulnerable storytelling. And by the time Vanessa started the unofficial encore with "A Thousand Miles," the audience had nearly forgotten that was the song they wanted to hear most. You just wanted to listen the lush atmosphere and worlds Vanessa Carlton was creating on stage and when she was joined by her husband, Deer Tick's John McCauley, earlier in the evening, you could really grasp the range and power of Carlton's sound when she was able to segue into a cover of one of her husband's track's with natural ease.

    If Vanessa Carlton comes to your city, see her. This is the doctor's orders. Whether you want to lose yourself in her voice, the keys, the strings, or her dense lyricism, Vanessa Carlton offers a mature and inviting world in which to escape.

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