As the lights dim with just a flicker of the candles on stage left to light the room, music fills up the chapel from every corner. Strings in the upper galleries, a violin from the pulpit and the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) enter from the back of the venue, before Brandi Carlile makes her way to the stage. Despite the fact tonight is completely un-amped, calling it a ‘pin drop’ show is a slight misnomer as the sound swells and fills the venue. The effect, from both the opening and subsequent numbers, is startling and as Brandi so rightly points out “some rooms in the world are meant to be part of the band and this room is one of them”.
Despite the lack of amplification, the band are still able to “raise a little hell” in Raising Hell whilst her solo rendition of That Year is truly startling, the emotion of her thoughts around her friends’ suicide truly captured in her delivery. Elsewhere the piano accompaniment for Bend Before It Breaks is perfectly pitched. In fact, the whole show is faultless, leaving the crowd to simply sit in awe of the sounds, and though Brandi’s voice has a bit of gravel about it (no doubt from having performed the same show to a sold out crowd the night before) this only adds to the effect. Without amplification there’s little to hide behind and nothing to help add power to her vocals except emotion and gusto, which she adds in equal measures.
With her new album The Firewatcher’s Daughter due for release on the 2nd March, it’s unsurprising that songs from the album feature heavily. The Eye goes some way to showing what the new album promises, with Brandi and the twins all taking the vocals until the song rises and swells like the hurricane it depicts. It’s this song that Brandi claims is truest to the band with no lead singer, and this is also highlighted throughout the night, each member of the show being crucial for it’s success. Elsewhere current single The Things I Regret highlights that her latest album might be her most inventive and enticing yet.
Nevertheless for me it’s Brandi’s haunting rendition of Cohen’s Hallelujah which is the pinnacle of the night, once again the emotive lyrics being echoed by her delivery. With a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, Pride and Joy and Again Today all making their way into the set, it’s a perfectly pitched show. If bands are ever in any doubt about how to approach a Union Chapel show, they’d do well to take a leaf out of Brandi’s book, which leaves the only question being how she will find a way to top tonight’s performance.