Vanessa Carlton Touches Hearts At Boulton Center Bay Shore, NY 3-9-17 - CrypticRock

Bursting onto the scene back in 2002, a young, talented singer-songwriter by the name of Vanessa Carlton quickly became a Pop Rock star. Only 22 years old, Carlton was thrust into the mainstream music world at the hands of her Billboard Hot 100 top 5 hit single; one which went on to become the sixth-most-played song of 2002, as well as one which earned Grammy Award nominations for “Record of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” and “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).” A blessing or a curse, her debut album, Be Not Nobody, was quickly certified gold, and in the blink of an eye, Carlton was out supporting Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind before her own headlining tour.

A learning experience, one which could be overwhelming, fast forward to 2017, Carlton is now older and wiser. Quite gracious and humble for her Pop success, these days, more importantly, Carlton stays true to the art of songwriting. Freed from the shackles of a major record label, Carlton continues to grow as a songwriter and performer as heard most vividly on her fifth overall studio album, 2015’s Liberman. A record named after her late grandfather’s surname, Carlton is in the frame of mind of honoring her heritage, but most of all, who she truly is. 

Releasing Liberman Live in late 2016, and most recently Earlier Things Live in late February, Carlton is on the road for a special tour running through mid-April. A run of shows which allows the audience a chance to get up close and personal with the musician, on Thursday, March 9th, she and her tourmate Tristen made the trip out to Bay Shore, New York for an evening at YMCA Boulton Center for The Performing Arts. 

Coming the night prior to a sold out engagement in New York City at City Winery, Long Islanders made the trip to the south shore of Suffolk County in the wake of a pending snow storm. Relaxed and calm, once in the doors of the welcoming venue, everyone took their seats as Tristen approached the stage with her co-performing partner, Buddy Hughen. Tristen, born Tristen Gaspadarek, originally from a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, now resides in the musical city of Nashville, Tennessee, a place where she and Carlton developed a strong friendship.

A colorful performer, Tristen has released two EPs and three full-length albums, but the true magic lies in her stage show. Very comfortable in her own skin, Tristen playfully joked with the audience in a nonchalant fashion. Leading everyone to believe she would be providing some deeper meaning behind each song, like a wise-cracking teenager, she stated the song was about exactly what its title implied.

Not all tongue-in-cheek, the music itself possessed some real beautiful elements ranging from Tristen’s voice to the delightful melodies of songs like “Eager For Your Love.” Then, the catchy nature of “Baby Drugs” came before “No One’s Gonna Know” where Tristen showcased a broad range of vocal textures, all while keeping emphasis on the story of the lyrics.

Lastly, one of the most comical, yet engaging moments came with the performance of new song “Psychic Vampire.” Matched with clever words and a overall sarcastic tone, Tristen had many laughing, but almost everyone smiling. Certainly a unique artist, Tristen earned a good amount of applause as she departed from the stage. An Indie artist on the rise, there is no doubt more than a few people googling her name to learn more about her before the night was over. 

Allowing for a brief intermission for set change-over, Carlton’s piano stood stage left as a stool with acoustic guitar stood stage right. Dead center in the middle of it all was a surreal painting of three nude women, one which had many in audience pondering the significance of its relationship to the show. 

Not left to wander in their thoughts too long, soon the lights went down as Carlton and her musical partner, Skye Steele, took their places under dim, warm mood lighting. Receiving a round of cheers, before even saying hello, Carlton quickly went into the song which launched her up the charts, “A Thousand Miles.” Almost as if she was looking to get it quickly out of the way, the rendition was not at all rushed or lack of enthusiasm as Carlton shuffled through the signature piano melody with ease while Steele provided the complementary strings. 

With that said and done, Carlton took a deep breath, proceeding to engage the crowd all set long with personal stories of her life and music. Going on, interestingly she mixed in a tidbit of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” prior to going into 2011 single “Carousel.” A heartfelt song, between the delicate piano keystrokes and the ear-tingling nature of Carlton’s voice, she had everyone’s complete eyes set on her. With undivided attention, Carlton kept the show flowing like a storyteller event, offering insight into her experiences, anecdotes dating back to her days a part of the major label machine, as well as to her life as a mother. 

Sticking with 2011’s Rabbit on the Run, “Fairweather Friend” came with all the emotional instrumentation as the studio recording as Steele’s strings mixed perfectly with Carlton’s singing and piano playing. Seeming as if the two had natural chemistry, not only did their talents mesh well together, it seems as if they knew where one another was going before they even took the next step. Impressive to see two musician interlocked in such a fashion, later on, Carlton explained her story connecting her to Steele, solidifying the very idea that their collaboration is nothing less than magical. 

Leaving no stone unturned in her efforts to bare her soul through song, Carlton told the story of a young girl named Annie who had loved the track “A Thousand Miles.” Sadly, Annie was ill with leukemia, not given much hope of survival. Extremely taken by the struggles of this sweet, innocent child, Carlton wrote the 2004 song “Annie” in honor of her. Choking back her tears, Carlton ended the story uplifting the room with the news that the real life Annie is alive and well, decade since beating the cancer.

Adding more personal feeling to the music, the stories kept coming for songs like “White Houses,” and more recent “Take It Easy,” a piece Carlton states Delta Airlines has been using as passengers board flights. Off Liberman, Carlton continued to indulge the room with tales, and perhaps the most interesting of all was the one behind the painting mysteriously hanging in the backdrop. For one, it was painted by her late grandfather. Admiring him for his use of color and style, the painting has inspired Carlton for many years, and as a result, led to her decision to keep it at the center of attention while performing.  

Speaking more of her family as time wore on, Carlton wore her heart on her sleeve most of the night, flowing into other songs like “Operator,” “Blue Pool,” and new unreleased song “Love Is An Art.” A glimpse into where Carlton’s next album may go, the track was ambient and beautifully refined. Continuing into the Folk-like “River” and honest, tranquill “I Don’t Want To Be a Bride,” Carlton’s voice continued to shine brightly.

With each song selection equally powerful as the last, stealing the show, momentarily, was Carlton’s little dog named Victor, prancing out from behind the backstage curtain. Quite adorable, he ran to the lip of the stage to get some pets from patrons in the front row before quickly retrieved. With so much area covered during her time on stage, Carlton’s show concluded with a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” as Tristen returned for a delightful duet. 

All around a wonderful evening, Carlton sounded fantastic, but it was her personality that truly beamed. Too often, talented musicians are pressured by major record labels to write one single after another. Well, music does not work that way, and thankfully for Carlton, she found a situation through it all that allows her abilities to flourish. Self-proclaimed one of her favorite touring formats, this is a must see event for anyone who enjoys the intimacy of pure song. Soon after the tour, Carlton will return to a full band format, so be sure to check out one of the many shows scheduled between now and April 15th. 

Photo credit: ML Schoen Photography

1 Comment

  •  
    Jeannie Blue

    March 15, 2017 at 1:14 am

    Reply

    Great review with lovely photographs, Frank. The paragraph about “Annie” made me tear up. I love that Vanessa still looks exactly as I will always picture her in my mind: cute but unassuming. Kind of like her music: no frills, just talent.

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