Brandi Carlile Joined by Joni Mitchell, Annie Lennox at Hollywood Bowl

For anyone in southern California who had experienced FOMJ (fear of missing Joni) when Brandi Carlile led “Joni jams” with Joni Mitchell last year at the Newport Folk Festival or earlier this year at the Gorge, there was finally an antidote for that. Mitchell was — as hoped — one of the guests at the “Brandi Carlile and Friends” show Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl, singing her classics “Circle Game, “Ladies of the Canyon” and “Shine” along with the full cast of participants gathered around her.

The guest list was quite expansive beyond the climactic mini-set of Mitchell material, with Annie Lennox making a rare live appearance to join Carlile in dueting on three songs, “Why,” “No More ‘I Love You’s” and the Eurythmics number “Love Is a Stranger.” Lennox expressed gratitude for getting a set-within-a-set, saying she would not be on stage without Carlile, with the latter expressing in turn that she would not be doing anything musically at all without Lennox paving the path.

Other performers who got individual turns in the spotlight before they supported Mitchell at the end included Allison Russell, Lucius, Blake Mills, SistaStrings and Wendy & Lisa.

As the full cast settled in for the final, Mitchell-honoring stretch, the central guest of honor exulted in the accolades. “Thank you for doing this for me. You make me feel so cool!” said Mitchell, grinning.

Mitchell was revealed as the show entered its final stretch when the Bowl stage revolved and she was already seated on a throne, surrounded by the full cast, joining her in being seated on couches, as is customary at “Joni jams,” whether they take place privately at her home near Santa Barbara or, now, publicly at Newport, the Gorge and the Bowl.

“Joni’s a party animal, you guys,” said Carlile. “Joni throws the best parties in Los Angeles.” Mitchell chimed in with assent: “I like to party.”

Referring back to their last appearance together at the Gorge in Washington in the spring, Carlile noted that Mitchell had looked on with a slight look of disapproval, or wonderment, at seeing Carlile drinking straight from the bottle on stage. “What was it you called me?” asked Carlile. “I called you ‘Butch,’” Mitchell responded.

In the case of “Ladies of the Canyon” and “Shine,” those songs had Lennox or Carlile singing co-lead while Mitchell dipped in around them, while the closing “Circle Game” was both a spotlight for Mitchell to take the lead on the verses as well as for a group-sing on the anthemic chorus.

“I promise not to get too used to asking you favors,” said Carlile. “Can we sing my favorite song that you’ve ever written? ‘Shine’?” “Okey-doke,” responded an agreeable Mitchell.

While the crew finished setup, Carlile led Mitchell in telling stories about her being up in Canada for the first time since she suffered a debilitating aneurysm, “and Joni wanted to go to this place called Chatterbox Falls. I can’t believe you trusted me to take you all the way up there, 60 miles,” on a boat. “She is a good boater,” Mitchell avowed of Carlile. “You know, she took the rapids like a champ.”

The night began on a solemn note, with Carlile discussing the tragedy in the Middle East and giving the sold-out audience permission to have both heavy hearts and a sense of celebration, without one canceling out the other as she described “how much we all need tonight.”

“There’s no elegant way to describe the fear and anxiety and anger that we’re all feeling about the devastation in the Middle East. But there’s no honest way forward into an evening of revelry without addressing it. … I understand how much pain the world is in. … For all of my friends out there reeling from the anxiety, the generational fear that this is causing, I want you to know that you’re safe tonight. We should also never underestimate the power of 16,000 collective souls, 16,000 people desperately wanting peace and non-violence. If you can compel your creator in whatever way you can, compel your creator, however you believe, (and) pray for peace and non-violence for Israelis and Palestinians. … Let me and my friends on stage tonight be an elixir for your troubled souls. We came here to you with the only gift that we know how to give, which is music, and we plan to lay it down at your feet. I also want you to know, it’s OK to feel joy tonight. It’s OK to smile and laugh and sing and dance. We’re here collectively to have fun, and to be powerful and innocent together…. That’s our intention tonight — peace.”

Carlile’s speech came between the opening “Stay Gentle,” a lullaby and paean to willful innocence from her most recent album, and a powerful solo rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

The host was not the only one to address the current world crisis. Allison Russell did it less overtly, by saying she wanted to preface her new song “Requiem” — which is already a song addressing the passage from life into death — with “a prayer,” singing an introductory a cappella segment that included the word “shalom.”

Near the end of the concert, Carlile alluded to a likely period of time away from the stage for her and her band, calling it “the end of an era,” adding that everyone would be back “but we won’t be the same people.” The singer-songwriter closed out a long tour with this show and does not have anything else on the books apart from her annual festival of female performers, Girls Just Wanna, taking place in Mexico in January.

Carlile expressed that she was nervous about the night of guests coming together, although she got over it soon into the set. But in a historic first, she made a flub when it came time to introduce her bandmates since the early 2000s, Phil and Tim Hanseroth. “I fucking mixed up the twins for the first time in my life! That’s how nervous I am.”

The first five numbers in the show paralleled the set that Carlile has been playing on the road in 2023, but from there, she promised, everything would be a departure, and that proved true enough. Surprises included the singer paying tribute to Elton John and Bernie Taupin, without whom she said she would never have written a single song, dipping deeper into their catalog for a potent cover of “Madman Across the Water.”

But for most of the last two-thirds of the show, apart from throwing in “The Joke” near the end, Carlile was content to be a happy facilitator and not the frontwoman, a cloak she takes on easily as she becomes what we’ve already referred to in these pages as rock’s greatest enabler.

Changing designer jackets while Lennox was on stage, Carlile quipped, “The tag’s still inside my jacket. So, you know, this is a big deal to me. I’ve set aside special clothes for the Hollywood fucking Bowl, man.”

Unlike Elton, Carlile came to Joni much later in life, something she’s been candid about. Well before acknowledging that Mitchell was in the house and going to perform, Carlile played a song she said was the first of hers to be inspired by Joni.

“Did I ever tell you guys a story about the time I met my wife? About how my wife wouldn’t date me unless I could get my head around Joni Mitchell?” she asked. “I was just getting ready to turn 30, and I just couldn’t come into myself. I couldn’t understand the kind of woman that I was. I just didn’t know. I wasn’t ready to be a mom or anything. I was just a dark, tortured rodeo clown of a musician. And I’m proud of my 20s, but not understanding Joni Mitchell is not the thing I’m most proud of about my 20s.

“When I did get it, and I realized I didn’t know how to be vulnerable and honest, it changed my songwriting. But it didn’t just change my songwriting, it changed me, and prepared me for this better half of my life. And the first thing I did when I embraced and learned the Gospel of ‘Blue,’ besides absolutely deep-diving into everything Joni Mitchell ever wrote, and read every interview and made up for lost time, was the first thing I did was I attempted to write a love song about real love and vulnerability, and take myself off the high horse. It was just supposed to be about love, and it was just supposed to be about kindness. And it’s a failed attempt, because there’s still a bit of death in it, and twistedness. And so it’s my first attempt, but I thought I’d maybe play it for you right now, just since it was a (first) song from the after-Joni.” The song was “I Belong to You.”

It worked, as far as proving to Carlile’s future wife, Catherine Carlile, that Brandi got Joni and, thus, passed the most basic communal test. Catherine was a key part of the Bowl show, herself, stepping out for a flawless duet of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” as heard on the deluxe version of the “Barbie” soundtrack.

Other highlights included Carlile joining the duo Lucius on a song she recently produced for them, “The Man I’ll Never Find.” Although written as a divorce song, “it seems appropriate,” they quipped, perhaps referring to a guest list almost exclusively devoted to women, although L.A. favorite Blake Mills got a featured number, also accompanied by Carlile.

Brandi Carlile and Friends setlist:

  1. Stay Gentle
  2. Over the Rainbow
  3. The Things I Regret
  4. Broken Horses
  5. The Story
  6. Right on Time
  7. I Belong to You
  8. Closer to Fine – with Catherine Carlile (Indigo Girls cover)
  9. The Man I’ll Never Find – with Lucius
  10. You and Me on the Rock – with Lucius
  11. Requiem – with Allison Russell
  12. Press My Luck – with Blake Mills
  13. Mountains – with Wendy & Lisa
  14. Why – with Annie Lennox
  15. No More “I Love You’s” – wth Annie Lennox
  16. Love Is a Stranger – with Annie Lennox (Eurythmics song)
  17. Madman Across the Water (Elton John cover)
  18. The Joke
  19. Woodstock (Joni Mitchell cover)
  20. SistaStrings instrumental
  21. Shine – with Joni Mitchell
  22. Ladies of the Canyon – with Annie Lennox and Joni Mitchell
  23. Circle Game – with Joni Mitchell

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