Michelle Branch makes triumphant return at El Rey

When I was in the middle school, I bought Michelle Branch‘s masterpiece The Spirit Room for my girlfriend at the time, mostly so I could burn myself a copy for myself.  At that age I was so insecure that I didn’t cop to my fandom of female singers and rockers as openly as I do now.

Some of my earliest serious making out sessions were listening to that record with one earbud in my ear and the other in hers. So when Michelle Branch announced a new album and tour that included a date at the El Rey, I circled it on my calendar.

Seeing her perform Tuesday night at the El Rey was like catching up with an old friend from back in the day you hadn’t seen in years. It had been 13 years since she last released a solo record, and the singer-songwriter had been through a lot in the time since: label strife, a divorce, and a newly-formed relationship with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, who helped produce her new record Hopeless Romantic. Carney was behind the kit for her tour.

The El Rey was packed by the time Michelle Branch took the stage. Two songs in, Branch launched into one of the singles from the new record, the rockin’ “Best You Ever”. She followed it up with an old cut “You Get Me”, and it was clear that though she wasn’t an active musician, fans had not forgotten her as they sang along loudly and proudly.

Michelle Branch

She dusted off one of her smash hits from The Spirit Room, “All You Wanted”, but with a slower tempo. The fans didn’t mind, singing along with the catchy as hell chorus like it was 2001 again. Another old favorite was “Leave the Pieces” from her time in The Wreckers, with HAERTS singer Nini Fabi and Branch’s female backing members helping out.

“Fault Line” was one of the standout tracks that was played from the new record. She sang the chorus with more angst and passion than is on the recording, where she takes a more measured approach. She wrapped up her set with Hotel Paper single “Are You Happy Now?” — fans chanted “EVERYWHERE!” instead of “encore”, clearly anticipating the song that put her on the map.

Fans got treated to an additional singalong, “Goodbye to You”, another strong song from Branch’s back catalog. She finished her set alone on stage playing “Everywhere”, arranged differently just as she had done with “All You Wanted”. The crowd teleported back to a time not only when music videos were a thing, but when a countdown show voted by fans called TRL was can’t miss TV. It was a solid way to end the evening.

Like I mentioned before, seeing Michelle Branch was like seeing an old friend — one where you’d say, “Damn, you haven’t aged a bit!” For as much as the singer has been through to get back on the stage, she sure didn’t look as though 13 years had gone by. Perhaps the reclamation of her career has added some glow, a kick in her step.

Those that first gravitated towards Michelle Branch’s music a decade and a half ago likely found out Tuesday night that they’ve grown along with the artist. Branch’s new songs reflect her newfound life experiences, and surely some of the crowd had gone through similar conflict in their lives in the time since.

Opening the show were the awesome synthpop group HAERTS, who played a bunch of new songs, closing their set with favorite “All the Days” — which sounds like it could have been a Fleetwood Mac song. The set was well received and a perfect appetizer for what Michelle Branch would bring to the stage later in the evening.

Photos courtesy of Justin Higuchi