Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton
The Parish
Austin, TX

Although “A Thousand Miles” is the song that catapulted Vanessa Carlton into the spotlight fourteen years ago, the innovative piano pop artist is by no means a one hit wonder. At her recent concert – her first time performing in Austin – Carlton once again proved herself a versatile performer unafraid to get personal with her fans.

Currently on tour for her 2015 album Liberman, a musical celebration of her own family history, Carlton created an intimate atmosphere for her audience by opening each song with the story behind its conception. The ballet-waltz style “Blue Pool,” Liberman’s signature single, was written in honor of her Russian-Jewish grandfather, a visual artist who changed his name from Liberman to Lee upon immigrating to the United States. On the other end of the familial spectrum, the more up-tempo “Willows” was composed shortly after the birth of Carlton’s daughter in 2015: “Growing up, I was never very close to my mom,” said Carlton. “I always respected her, but never really understood her. Until I had my own daughter. This song is for the three of us.”

Carlton didn’t spend much time lingering in the past – the majority of the set came from Liberman and her 2011 album Rabbits On the Run, which boast a more classical flavor than her preceding pop recordings – but indulged the audience with a no-frills throwback performance of 2004’s hit White Houses, a song that has been censored and even banned from some radio stations due to a lyric that refers to a girl’s first sexual experience. This live performance was enhanced by the violin riffs of her accompanist, Skye Steele. Revealing that she wrote her most well known track as a sixteen-year-old American School of Ballet student out of frustration with a teacher, Carlton dropped “A Thousand Miles” right in the middle of the set, and dedicated the performance to a tiny girl who found her way onto the stage: “That song was for you, sweetie. Never let any grownup get in the way of your dreams!”

But Carlton’s most poignant performance came at the end of the evening, as she closed the show with 2011’s “The Marching Line.” She shared that Deer Ticks, band of her husband John McCauley, had been performing in Paris the night of the recent ISIS attacks. While none of the band members were hurt, many in the audience were injured or killed.

“It shook me up because art to me has always been a safe space, and it was at a show just like this that those people lost their lives without any warning. Art is supposed to be where we feel free, where we come to understand each other. So ever since that night, each time I play this song I dedicate it to those who were killed.”

Carlton’s vulnerability as a performer serves only to heighten the enchantingly classic piano riffs, noir pop lyrics, and endearingly girlish vocals the put her on the mainstream musical map over a decade ago.

by Nori Hubert