Case in point: The show began with a taping of a promo for said show, which meant a premature introduction of the guests -- Comedian Maria Bamford and alt country/folk singer Brandi Carlile, who bantered about -- of all things -- rope tricks.
Carlile got her portion of the evening off to an auspicious start with a haunting rendition of "Raise Hell" off her new album Bear Creek. She followed that up with her smash hit "The Story," and the Fitzgerald provided ample space for Carlile's huge voice to fill the room, as you can tell from this video taken from the third floor balcony.
As she would explain to Wits host John Moe, the key for her is the dynamic between voice-splitting loud and painfully soft -- a variation on the Pixies trope that Nirvana rode to such success. She also commented that people often worry she's going to blow her voice out, but she believes that as long as she's feeling the emotions she can safely hit the notes.
After an intermission, Moe led the two guests in a truly inspired game that was sort of a "Dueling Banjos" of comedy and songwriting. Moe would toss out a hard-to-relate-to topic, which Bamford would have to improvise as a comedic riff, and Carlile would have to instantly turn into a song. It is perhaps the only occasion Carlile would have to rhyme owl and towel, but she proved a natural who somehow managed bigger laughs than Bamford.
Carlile returned to her new album with a performance of "That Wasn't Me," and later led the crowd in a sing-a-long of the Beatles' classic "Let It Be."
Brandi Carlile on the piano led the band in a rousing rendition of "Let It Be."
At the end of Wits, the audience has to sit still for a few re-takes -- lines that got missed or stepped on. In this case, there were five -- including a retake of the rope trick promo -- and Moe promised the crowd an additional Carlile song if everyone behaved.
Despite a few dicey moments with overenthusiastic wooing, Carlile returned for a beautiful encore performance of "Over the Rainbow," a call-back to the most hilarious sketch of the evening.
Critic's Bias: I didn't know Brandi Carlile from Belinda Carlisle going into the show, but wow can she sing. The Crowd: The MPR digerati and a sizeable lesbian contingent for Carlile, who came out publicly in 2002 and married her girlfriend in September.
Overheard: Ana Marie Cox, the original Wonkette, was in the audience and tweeted:
Can't believe this amazing, huge voice is coming from the tiny woman onstage. Listeners will think Brandi Carlile IS 800 FEET TALL. #Wits
Notebook Dump: This was my second time seeing Wits -- the first was last year's episode featuring Neil Gaiman and Josh Ritter -- and it is always a revelatory experience. If you haven't gone, you should.
Brandi Carlile's Setlist:
1. Raise Hell
2. The Story
3. That Wasn't Me
4. Let It Be
5. Over the Rainbow