When Vanessa Carlton first came out on stage in San Francisco, she addressed the elephant in the room and played the song that everyone knew and hoped for, “A Thousand Miles.” Although Carlton dismissed the song as something that had to be done so that she could get on with the show, I wondered if that was all there was to it.
After the success of “A Thousand Miles” back in 2001, she went on to release two more singles for “Be Not Nobody,” her debut album. She has released five albums up to date with four different labels, refusing to stay committed to one single record label. Her most recent album, “Liberman,” was released in 2015.
Although many people believe “A Thousand Miles” was written with romantic intent, it’s actually a song about Carlton’s late grandfather, Allan J. Lee. “Liberman” was also inspired by her grandfather, whose presence was also felt at the concert. In the middle of the stage, a painting by Lee hung from the ceiling. Born Allan Liberman, Lee immigrated from Germany to New York City, changed his name and became a shoes salesman. Carlton’s album takes inspiration from his paintings, which stood in front of her piano while she played sweeping, swirly melodies similar to those heard in “Blue Pool,” a song from her newest album.
On “Harmonium,” Carlton’s second album, many songs have pretty melodies that don’t match her serious and sometimes depressing lyrics. “Rabbits on the Run,” her third album, is a folk album with beautiful instrumentation and lyrics. Carlton paints blurry pictures of how she views the world through her extensive use of metaphors. While some may find this quality of her music annoying, I’d say that it showcases her ability to create a world in which the listener can get lost. Ever since “Rabbits on the Run,” she has worked to create enchanting melodies that take listeners to another realm.
The show was also thematic. The blue, red and pinkish purple colors on stage highlighted the beautiful paintings. While the first half of the show included songs from her past, they were all under a solid idea of unity and magical thinking, whilst the second half of the show was explicitly dedicated to her grandfather.
All of the sounds on stage came from just two people. With Vanessa Carlton on piano and accompanist Skye Steele on violin and acoustic guitar with Macbook and loop pedal, the music unfolded onstage like magic. Throughout the show, I began to understand how layered and complex the songs she produced are, with a peak favorite moment being Carlton’s decision to combine “Take it Easy” and “Operator” into one song that made me feel like I was falling down a rabbit hole. The songs were so cohesively stitched together that only a true fan who knew all of Carlton’s repertoire could tell when one switched to another.
Carlton’s opening acts were Tristen, a Nashville singer-songwriter, and Skye Steele, who also joined her on stage during her performance. Both are small-time artists, and, in a way, I guess you could say Carlton is as well. “A Thousand Miles” made her famous, but a majority of people can only recall her old sound. At the end of the set, Carlton was urged to come back for an encore and preceded to sing a Nashville song with Tristen. As they sung into the microphones face-to-face with Skye making the music in the background, I saw that they were enjoying the journey to make music that matters to them, even if it reaches only a small fraction of the world.
Carlton’s style of music is always changing, but one thing remains consistent: She will always do things her way or the high way. Every piece of music that she produces has an intention and is a part of a piece of art. I can’t wait to see what comes next for her.
Contact Jourdann Fraser at [email protected].