concert reviews

Vanessa Carlton at the Birchmere, Alexandria, VA, Monday 1 November 2004

"I look very innocent in my dress this evening," said 24-year-old Vanessa Carlton on Monday night as she glanced down at her pale frock, "but you don't want to get me in a car!" She then launched into "The Wreckage," a song about an automobile accident she envisioned in a fit of road rage, but she stopped midway through when the giggles from the crowd at the sold-out Birchmere disrupted her focus. With a laugh and the declaration "This just isn't working," Carlton quickly changed gears by playing her most well-known track, "A Thousand Miles."

Carlton's dress wasn't the only thing that made her seem innocent. She sang with a childlike chirp, which often veered into the shrillness of a temper tantrum on angrier songs such as "C'est La Vie." She talked about her fascination with ghosts ("She Floats") and vampires (specifically, unicorn-eating vampires, in "Half a Week Before the Winter"). She pounded the piano with simple riffs accented with arpeggios and chords; her instrumentation on "San Francisco" sounded like an extended version of "Chopsticks." But the simplicity of her style sometimes added to her songs: On "Wanted," the furious rumbling of the piano complemented simple, repetitive lyrics that grew into an all-out frenzy by the end of the tune.

Although she sometimes came across as overly sweet, Carlton's ability to look and sound years younger than her age did give her a refreshing innocence, and her mostly G-rated lyrics and stage banter made her show a nice alternative to her less refined teen-pop contemporaries.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 3 November 2004
.: Selected discography: Harmonium (Vanessa Carlton, 2004); Be Not Nobody (Vanessa Carlton, 2002).