SEATTLE — They may not have walked a thousand miles, but a clean-cut crowd of 5- to 50-year-olds came from suburbs far and wide to hear ballerina-turned-chanteuse Vanessa Carlton on a cold and drizzly November night. She obliged them with a 65-minute set of confessional piano-driven numbers from her debut album Be Not Nobody and beyond.
Sporting tight jeans, a leather blazer and a heavy fringe of bangs, Carlton entered a stage unlit but for a single spotlight and a cluster of candles perched atop her tapestry-covered piano. She ripped straight into non-album track "C'est La Vie," with its fierce refrain "Boy you swallow truth like honey/ As you spill your lies upon me/ Through and through you go down." Her resemblance to certain women who've come before her — think a less raw, Little Earthquakes-era Tori Amos or a helium-high Fiona Apple — comes across clearly, though her talents as both a songwriter and musician are clear.
"Papa," which she introduced firmly as "not about my dad," was another ferocious call-out to a fallen lover, "a genuine wannabe" scornfully dismissed. A full band — bass player, guitarist, keyboard and drums — then joined Carlton onstage for her third number, the mournful "Unsung."
Carlton jokingly complimented the audience on their strong singing voices and spoke a little about her upcoming video before launching into the soft ballad "Pretty Baby," augmented by several hand drums. "It's just you and me for a little bit, so I hope you don't mind," she said at its conclusion, adding before slipping into "Swindler," "This is a song I used to play for drunk dudes who didn't want to hear it" — a reference to her time playing smoky piano bars and open mics in New York City before hitting the big leagues. Carlton then led into the defiant "Wanted" by speaking of her recent tears-inducing experience with the song at famed annual fundraiser the Bridge School Benefit alongside idols like James Taylor and Neil Young.
The band returned for "Sway" and her biggest hit, which she dubbed "A Thousand F---ing Miles." Carlton managed a strong note-perfect rendition, despite her guitar player's broken string, and the song's near-iconic status was made clear in the audience's rapt attention. The artist swiftly followed with her album's second single, the sweet "Ordinary Day," which she explained as, "The only song I ever wrote in one sitting." It buoyed the subdued crowd with its tinkly, swinging chorus and did-he-or-didn't-he? lyrics.
The mood of the room took a swift 180 for her interpretation of the Rolling Stones classic "Paint It Black," an unnecessary but well-done effort that proved Carlton could rock as well as roll, pumping her leather-cuffed arm in the air and stalking the lip of the stage. It was a triumphant note to end the night on, and she strode swiftly offstage, returning only to do two more quick numbers, including the desolate Nobody closer "Twilight," before leaving for good.
Aussie Ben Lee — the much-celebrated "boy genius" of '90s indie rock — opened with a passionate career-spanning 12-song set and closed out with an inspired acoustic cover of the 1985 Dramarama hit "Anything Anything (I'll Give You)," as loyal girlfriend Claire Danes looked on.
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