Brandi Carlile - Union Chapel, London

When Brandi Carlile last visited London she was getting married to her then girlfriend in Chelsea Town Hall, something she couldn't - and still can't in places - legally do in the US. The time before she was stepping out from behind the microphone for a song at her Islington Assembly Hall show. Now, and if you'll permit me to stretch an analogy to breaking point, she spends tonight's performance combining those ideas: no amplification and something else that can't be entirely achieved in her home country.

By her own admission the original idea for the Pin Drop Tour was mainly focused on the older east coast of the States. "They ain't got shit on you," is her admission on stepping onto the stage at the grand and pretty old Union Chapel. It's striking: to see a stage free of microphones, speakers, in fact anything electrical. There are though plenty of acoustic guitars and what can only be described as two gramophone horns. And the Twins of course; Carlile is flanked by her ever-present band mates Phil and Tim Hanseroth. Accompanying that central triumvirate at various points are their string trio, also unplugged.


A good three or four songs go by before your ears get used to the lack of volume. The space suits Carlile's distinct voice and its surprising range, and the Washington State native uses the physical space of the venue as well as the sonic space, sporadically leaving the stage and moving around the crowd, pausing for the odd blast of camera flash. To a song the set list is perfectly pitched for the concept: the enchanting 'That Wasn't Me'; the three part harmony that is new tune 'The Eye'; the loudest of the night, the raucous 'Raising Hell'. For the encore we get Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain' and Avett Brothers' 'Murder In The City'.

It would be easy to gush, use words like unique, ballsy, delightful, unforgettable, etc., but the audience on the night said it best: not one, but two impromptu standing ovations,the entire venue on their feet. In a world where most everything is ramped to the max it's exhilarating to see an artist turning the dial down a few notches. As in life, so in art, Brandi Carlile is doing a little of what her heart desires.

Brandi's new album The Firewatcher's Daughter is released on 2nd March 2015.

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