Vanessa Carlton with Tristen at the Great Hall

Photographs by Katrina Lat.

A room of pre-teen souls were unleashed last Friday at The Great Hall, mine included. “We’re gonna just let this eagle fly,” said Vanessa Carlton, taking her place behind the piano, coffee mug of red wine in hand, before opening with the iconic riff we all remember from our 2002 radios. 

Not surprisingly, “A Thousand Miles” was performed with the air of someone who has performed it a thousand times. But in the minds of her fans, Carlton has succeeded in removing herself from its shadow. In the aftermath of having a hit, she has released music regularly and veered away from the major label circuit, a transition she now calls “the beginning of my life.” 

The singer-songwriter dedicated the first half of her show to the crowd pleasers. She opened each piece with an explanation of its origins, much to the satisfaction of those fans who have been left to wonder for over a decade. Carlton credited the inspiration for “White Houses”, a coming of age fan favourite, to university dorms – mundane, grey buildings that conceal a “colourful, wonderful, horrible” world, continuously wiping itself clean for the next to inhabit it. 

For “Who’s To Say”, a forbidden love ballad, Carlton alluded to the LGBT community, of which she is largely a part of. Some of the more boisterous audience members were prompted to call out their Trump protests. For those who had known the song years over, this prelude gave it an entirely new meaning. 

There was a beautiful break in her voice throughout the show, as if she might lose it at any moment. It had the same emotive quality but felt undeniably older. There was a knowing maturity, a kind of weathered aching, in Carlton’s voice that we didn’t hear back in 2002. And the lack of expression in her face was made up for by her emotive belts and falsettos. 

She shared the stage with a multi-tasking accompanist and a friend of ten years. He used a looping system to build each song with violins, guitars, and 808 beats, a process Carlton described as a nightly gamble that had turned out to be a wonderfully creative experience. 

Carlton’s most recent studio release is Liberman, an album inspired by one of her grandfather’s paintings, which was the backdrop for her Toronto stage. The album is a noticeable detour from her early work. It toys with dreamy synth layers and eery electronica while encompassing the same hook-centric songwriting style she has mastered. 

Carlton asked the crowd to join her in this strange new place for the second half of the show and we willingly accepted. From “Take It Easy”, a dark collage of breathy vocals driven by a synth kick, to “Willows”, an ode to her mother after becoming a mom herself, the crafty B-side of the show was a solid representation of how both Carlton and her music have grown. 

The room, although surprisingly rambunctious, had nothing but gratitude for Carlton’s ‘something old, something new’ philosophy. With an equal focus on her audience and her own labour of love, she transformed The Great Hall into both a time machine and a wake up call. 

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