Brandy Clark is one of the most distinctive songwriters working in Nashville today, writing hits for the likes of Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, as well as having two critically-acclaimed albums under her belt. She’s been wowing audiences in the UK on her regular visits since her debut at C2C: Country to Country in 2015 and is currently touring the country, including a two-night run at London’s iconic Union Chapel.
Brandy kicked off her set with the sassy Stripes, the lead single from her debut record 12 Stories. The setup on stage gave the song a more lonesome feel than the album version and showed off the lovely tone of her voice, which was sweet but with an edge of a growl being kept just under control. From the moment she stepped on stage she seemed incredibly relaxed, telling the audience that she was changing her set from the previous night’s show. It seems like a small thing yet is surprisingly uncommon for an artist to do, and showed that she wanted to give the crowd a different experience.
For this performance, Brandy played half the songs from each of her previous two albums, beginning with 12 Stories. Her choice of tracks included the bluesy Pray To Jesus, the sad but strangely uplifting Take A Little Pill, the bittersweet humour of Get High and the biting Hungover – all of which created perfectly detailed portraits of no-good men and tough women trying to hold it together. Throughout the set she introduced each song with details of how it came about and it was really interesting to hear the stories behind them. I also loved the simple arrangements of the songs, which allowed the lyrics to stand out and meant Brandy’s voice resonated really clearly, blending nicely in harmonies with her guitarist Miles and bass player Vanessa.
Brandy finished the 12 Stories section with an acoustic version of Hold My Hand, which really highlighted the soulful side of her voice. The stripped-back feel emphasised the emotion of the song but without being over the top, and the audience was held completely spellbound before bursting into thunderous applause at the end of the song. She then completely changed the pace with the stomping, snarling Girl Next Door from her second album Big Day In A Small Town, which had the crowd clapping and singing along.
The second half of the show was definitely more introspective, with Brandy shining on single mother tribute Three Kids No Husband, the melancholy You Can Come Over and Love Can Go To Hell. I was really impressed by the control she had over her vocals; these are emotional songs and (in the case of the latter) include a particularly big soaring note, but it never felt like they were going to overwhelm her. However she also included some more uptempo numbers such as the sharp lyrics of Daughter, the Loretta Lynn-esque Drinkin’, Smokin’, Cheatin’ and the jangly Big Day In A Small Town, with accompanying crowd cheers when one of the characters in the song scored a touchdown.
For me the standout moment came at the end of the main set with Since You’ve Gone To Heaven, which Brandy wrote about her late father. She spoke very movingly about him in the intro before moving into the emotional song, which she performed beautifully. The lyrics perfectly capture the impact of a death not just on the family, but on the whole town, and is about mourning for the loss of that small town life. It’s an utterly heartbreaking song and I saw a few tears in the audience (including my own).
After a standing ovation, Brandy came back onstage to perform three new songs. These included the 70s-influenced Apologies and the poignant Favourite Lie, which mixed downbeat lyrics with midtempo melodies. She finished the show with her current US single You’re Drunk, combining a funky bassline with humour that was reminiscent of Stripes and brought the show full circle.
Overall I was blown away by Brandy’s performance. She said at the end of the set that it had been a rollercoaster of emotions, and it definitely was, showing her range as a songwriter and ability to capture the characters in her songs with just a few lines. Her gorgeous vocals also stood out really strongly and were enhanced by the fantastic acoustics of the venue. The only bad thing about her performance was that it was too short! It was an utterly fabulous performance and I can’t wait for her to come back to the UK with album number three.
Set list: 1. Stripes 2. Pray To Jesus 3. Get High 4. Take A Little Pill 5. Hungover 6. Hold My Hand 7. Girl Next Door 8. You Can Come Over 9. Love Can Go To Hell 10. Big Day In A Small Town 11. Three Kids No Husband 12. Drinkin’, Smokin’, Cheatin’ 13. Daughter 14. Since You’ve Gone To Heaven 15. Apologies 16. Favourite Lie 17. You’re Drunk Performance date: 24th October 2017