Everybody knows Vanessa Carlton’s 2002 pop anthem “A Thousand Miles.” You would need to have lived under a rock for several years to avoid hearing it at least a thousand times. Despite being considered by some as a one-hit wonder, Carlton released her fifth full-length studio album, “Liberman,” Oct. 23. In support of her new album, she has embarked on a North American tour, making her most recent stop at World Cafe Live Philadelphia Dec. 9.
After a relaxed and humorous opening set from Canadian singer-songwriter Joshua Hyslop, Carlton took her place at the piano alongside backing musician Skye Steele. She started off her set with her own “Carousel” interwoven with Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly.” You didn’t need to be a fan or even a casual listener of her music to recognize right off the bat how different she now sounds compared to her early 2000s radio hit. For one thing, her overall sound was much more mature, both musically and lyrically. Her voice has aged beautifully, with a richer and somewhat deeper timbre than her vocals on her first couple albums (which frankly I thought were a bit shrill and annoying).
With seven of her new songs peppered throughout the setlist, her new mystifying sound showcased Carlton as a mature songwriter to be taken seriously, rather than “that teen girl on the radio.” Her new album “Liberman,” named after her grandparents, explores themes such as nostalgia and euphoria. Recently having had her first child, a baby girl, her lyrics also reflect her new life as a mother.
Everyone in the audience seemed to be really captivated by her new material and her new takes on old songs. Most songs featured only piano, vocals (heavy on the reverb), and Steele on violin. It made for some very beautiful renditions of some of her older, otherwise bland songs. I mean let’s face it, with a good singer, a piano and a string instrument, any song could sound like a masterpiece—the instruments complement each other so well. While violin was clearly Steele’s instrument of choice, he also played acoustic guitar for a couple songs and was in control of electronic samples.
There was no doubt that the fan favorite was “White Houses,” from her 2004 sophomore release, “Harmonium.” By the end of the song, everyone was singing along. Near the end of her set, she played the obligatory hit that put her on the map—“A Thousand Miles.” A lot of artists who have succeeded early in their career with one single try way too hard to detach themselves from the hit, refusing to play “that one song,” but Vanessa Carlton really gave it her all. It’s hard to say this without sounding sarcastic, but “A Thousand Miles” was so good that everyone forgot to sing along. Everyone was totally captivated.
She closed with her 2007 song “Home,” which was just as sweet and soothing as the rest. I think Carlton showed a lot of people that she is much more than a one hit wonder. She sounds just as good as, or even better than, any other singer-songwriters in the indie scene.