Back in 2002, Vanessa Carlton left her lasting mark on pop music history. I’ve found that a mere mention of her typically evokes one of several reactions— a vague familiarity with the name, a humming of piano chords, or a reference to White Chicks. After all, it is “A Thousand Miles” that thrust her into the limelight fifteen years ago. Yet, contrary to popular belief, Vanessa Carlton is not a one-hit wonder, and after seeing her perform live, I’m convinced that she deserves to be known for more than a song she wrote when she was sixteen.
Prior to the concert, I admit I didn’t have many expectations. In fact, I probably would have been in one of the categories above. I was excited to hear the one song I was very familiar with, but for some reason couldn’t get into some of the newer Vanessa Carlton songs I sampled on Spotify. However, Sunday night’s concert at 3rd & Lindsley proved to me that Vanessa Carlton and her raw musical genius could do no wrong.
In fact, the throngs of people who packed the multi-storied venue were testament enough of that. By 8 p.m. or so, there were no tables left up for grabs— at least not one with some degree of a view of the stage.
Tristen, who describes herself as a genre-bending musician, opened for Vanessa Carlton. Tambourine in hand, she pumped up the crowd with her pop-indie-rock set. Her contagious energy successfully engaged listeners, even getting the audience to sing along in the chorus of “Psychic Vampire,” in which the dulcet melody was supplemented with biting lyrics.
Carlton began her set at 9 p.m., kicking it off with “A Thousand Miles.” A clear fan favorite, this particular performance elicited loud whoops and cheers as Carlton sang from the piano bench, where she remained for almost the entirety of her set to play accompaniments to her songs.
She then delivered a moving performance of “Carousel” from her 2011 album Rabbits on the Run. For someone who had just come out of a relationship, Vanessa’s soulful crooning felt therapeutic and I daresay even healing as she sang about the cyclic nature of finding love.
Another highlight from the album was “I Don’t Want To Be A Bride,” a song so genuine it brought me to tears. In it, Vanessa tells of a love so pure and true that merely being together was enough to make her life feel full: “Don’t need no golden ring/ It’d be no match for the love it brings.”
From Liberman, the album she released in 2015, Carlton sang “Take It Easy,” “Willows,” “Operator,” “Blue Pool,” “Nothing Where Something Used To Be,” and “River”— all of which have beautiful arrangements that sound all the more affecting performed live. My personal favorite of the newer tracks was “Nothing Where Something Used To Be,” which featured a stunning string instrumental.
Other standouts from the night included an oldie but goodie from 2004 called “White Houses,” a new, yet-to-be-published song called “Love Is An Art,” and a cute harmonized duet between Vanessa and Tristen called “Lord Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes-Benz,” complete with a few synchronized quasi-dance moves.
Not only did Carlton’s music feel so authentic, but her candid remarks and dry humor—not to mention her fondness for drinking ‘a tall glass of water that tastes just like red wine’— made her very relatable and likable. Throughout the performance, she shared interesting tidbits about her musical inspirations.
Regarding Liberman, Carlton mentioned that it was inspired by her late grandfather’s painting. The painting features a naked woman drawn three different ways, and Carlton claims the reason her grandmother passed it down to her was likely that the woman in the painting was not her grandmother.
She also shared that “Operator” was her corruption story about a cougar who got involved with a younger man. Of course, she added in a little disclaimer that it had “nothing to do with [her] at all; [her] husband is 30 and [she is] 36.”
At the end of the night, I concluded that when performing live, especially with Skye Steele heading the violin and sound effects, Vanessa Carlton delivered every song in her set as a masterful performance. Wrapped up in the atmosphere, the only thing that made the experience even more enjoyable was the enthusiasm of the people around me. Whenever I caught superfans mouthing the words, enthusiastically playing the air piano, or subtly rocking out in their seats, I could do nothing but marvel at the unifying power of Carlton’s music.
Photos by Irena Chiang