Michelle Branch at Hammerstein in New York City
Of the 3 New York City shows Michelle Branch played this year, the best was definitely saved for last. It doesn’t suffice to say she was great…she f**king ripped the roof off! At Central Park way back in June, Branch was good but her performance was self admittedly hampered by a cold. At The Bowery Ballroom/AOL concert, NYC fans were treated to the type of energy and quality we’re used to seeing from Michelle. That said however, compared to pen-ultimate Hammerstein show, Bowery show goers should remain in blissful ignorance-lest die of insane jealousy.
I’ve learned there are three versions of Michelle Branch. There is “studio Michelle” which we all know and love from her recorded tracks. This Michelle is a product of her relentless perfectionism. “Studio Michelle’s” music is beautiful and rich yet often refined to a fault. Every song is so chock full of production, one is often distracted from and left unable to access the true nuance of Michelle’s voice. Next there is “TV Michelle”. “TV Michelle” is professional and generous, yet often gives somewhat muted and less emotionally expressive performances. Where TV cameras invasively caress her profile for mass millions Michelle suddenly becomes over-polite and restrained. As unbelievable as this may sound, I chalk it up to shyness. There was a little bit of this Michelle at the Bowery.
Then there is a third version of Michelle, the “Relaxed and in her element Rock-Out like nothing else matters Michelle.” We got this Michelle at the Hammerstein Ballroom last night. This Michelle holds nothing back. Her vocals fully expressed to the point of near screaming has within itself more life force than many actual people…and reverberating within the cavernous expanse of Hammerstein it became a multiple front engagement of the senses. Michelle’s live voice delivered to the gut on equal quotient to the ears. Sensing the magic in the acoustics, she took full advantage, doing several acoustic sets; two with solo guitar, one accompanied by Lovejoy’s piano and a version of Everywhere that started out pared, slowed down and in a lower octave, before kicking it up to full force rocking accompaniment.
The show kicked-off with Finding My Way Back from the Hotel Paper CD. The band was a bit off on this number, playing way too loud. The wash of feedback blunted Michelle’s singing. This was the sole misstep of the evening however. They soon corrected themselves and stopped competing with Michelle’s soaring voice. By the second number, “Breathe”, the band had found it’s groove. This is when the show really got cooking as Michelle gave what I thought was her best performance of her newest single yet. Pun intended; “She breathed new life into it.” It seemed Michelle had finally gotten past her unhappiness over Maverick’s choosing Breathe for HP’s second single, and rediscovered a joy in singing it she has not had in many months.
Other highlights included one new song and a version of Are You Happy Now with a killer twist as the encore. In recent shows Lovejoy has wrapped up AYHN with a short extension of the song’s synth solo. Last night the solo was taken to a new level as it became a lead-in and bridge to a brooding industrial-remix sounding jam based on AYHN’s themes. As Lovejoy’s chord’s morphed into more and more sinister sounding growls, Arnoff laid down a beat that would make New Order proud. Miss Branch joined in, crooning the single refrain “I don’t care” over and over like some kind of gothic-industrial vamp. It was a unexpected departure that proved exhilarating. It was also a hell of a way to climax the night.
In a sense Miss Branch gave a retro performance last night. This was the same Michelle who first astonished Maverick Record executives by conquering crowds with only her lungs, a spare six-string and her joy of existing in the moment. Unlike the Michelle of recent years who has been either overly concerned with moronic music critics or burdened with playing Maverick label messiah on national tv and relentless promotional events. Certainly Michelle is at her best when she just “don’t care.”
Reviewer: evil dave