Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton

with Ben Lee

Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA • November 10, 2002

This is now the best show I have seen since relocating to San Francisco two months ago.

I didn’t know what to expect from a girl who seemed to come out of nowhere and be all over the radio. I couldn’t get anyone I knew to even go to the show with me — and I had free tickets. I braved it alone, and treated myself to a round-trip cab ride to the Tenderloin (like I was gonna ride the bus) and dinner at the venue. Half of me was expecting her show to be really mediocre and sterile, and half of me just wanted to hear the song “A Thousand Miles.” Both halves ended up being blown away.

Vanessa Carlton turned out to be a spectacular performer with a band of killer musicians. It’s seeing shows like hers that makes me wanna be a session dude. A highly-skilled entertainer in many ways, she kept the show going smoothly while expertly leaving herself open to whatever odd things might happen to make the show more exciting — most notably, her burps.

The musicians were all top-notch and the show cranked along without a glitch. Vanessa’s voice held out well, despite some of the raging gravel she channeled through it at times. Her piano skills were fluid and expressive; she is definitely not a no-talent overnight sensation. It seemed she was at some points pushing herself out of most of the teeny-bopper sensation imagery that she is probably forced into by the PR machine. As Darrin Johnson once said about a certain female musician, “She’s legit.” When she first started singing it seemed that voice couldn’t possibly be coming out of the speakers. It was too powerful and real. Kinda chipmunky, but cool. Expressive. The drummer was also a madman on a mission to insert illusion beats in the middle of everything, dreadlocks a flyin’. Great groove and ferocious energy. The bassist laughed a lot, the guitarist made great sound effects, and the keyboardist did a knock-out job of filling in for the entire orchestra which played on the album but couldn’t be budgeted in for the tour.

Their stage manager was this really big beefy road-dog guy with a long goatee who looked like he should be on the SWAT team. He wore all black and had all these velcro things, straps, and pouches attached to him for carrying assorted tools of the trade. His job duties included announcing the band, checking mics, carrying a flashlight, running a monitor mix, keeping the stage free of debris (including Sir Millard Mulch CD’s that people threw all over the place) and, most importantly, lighting all the candles on the stage. You know, one of those guys with big forearms that you wouldn’t mess with if he told you to step aside.

And get this. At one point, I spotted Claire Danes walking around the club before the show, glass of wine (or something) in hand. That was pretty freaky, so I called Flail Tenacious and told him about it. He told me, “Man, you’ve ridden in an elevator with Jello Biafra…I am sure you can handle Claire Danes.”

And I can’t be certain but I think the singer of Third Eye Blind was there.

On the cab ride home I had a lengthy conversation about Whitley Strieber with the cab driver. Possibly the longest conversation I’ve had with anyone in this town so far, making the night even more notable. I know, that has nothing to do with the concert. I digress. I’ve always wanted to say that.

The moral of our story? The mainstream isn’t such a bad thing after all. If you have the courage you just might find something worthwhile. Hell, Ben Lee was even entertaining. As long as stuff like this concert and Ayn Rand books exist, the world isn’t such a bad place. Republicans rule.

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