In advance of Brandi Carlile’s fifth album The Firewatcher’s Daughter being released on ATO Records on 3 March, the talented singer-songwriter came across the pond from her native US to play two sold-out nights at the beautiful candlelit venue of Union Chapel in Islington, London on 12 & 13 February 2015. The back-to-back gigs took place two years to the day after her last gigs also in Islington, north London. As part of her latest Pin Drop tour, Brandi Carlile played the entire gig without amplification or microphones, “a show so intimate”, the publicity promised, “you can hear a pin drop.”
Assisted by the outstanding acoustics and atmosphere of the Union Chapel venue space as well as their incredible voices and musical skills, this was a promise delivered upon by the band and so much more! At times raucous and at times gentle and tender, Brandi Carlile played a mixture of favourites from her back catalogue including The Story (2007) and her most recent album Bear Creek (2012) as well as three tracks from her upcoming album The Firewatcher’s Daughter (2015).
Before the band came to the stage, the candlelit venue, a working church and sometime entertainment venue, the church pews and space were filled with the clatter, chatter and buzz of excited punters awaiting Carlile’s latest appearance in the UK. The gig opened with the violinist from the String Trio emerging from the pulpit to begin a raw version of Again Today followed by The Story from Carlile’s 2007 album The Story. Songs, old and new, were played by various permutations and combinations of Carlile herself, her longtime collaborators and friends Tim and Phil Hanseroth known affectionately as “the Twins” and the String Trio. On the early tracks in the gig was the latest single from The Firewatcher’s Daughter, The Eye and the band also played The Things I Regret and Beginning to Feel the Years. The last track was played by the Twins at Carlile’s wedding in 2012.
Carlile also played older tracks from her outstanding back catalogue including a piano and cello version of Bend Before It Breaks and a rare solo performance of the evocative That Year from her 2009 album Give Up the Ghost about the death of a close friend. Later on, they played a passionate and engaging version of Pride and Joy. The gig concluded with two encores, the first being Beginning to Feel the Year, Fleetwood Mac cover The Chain, and Dying Day. The gig concluded with a solo second encore by Carlile alone playing a goosebump-inducing version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah dedicated to her wife Catherine.
This amazing gig was truly a thing of beauty: using and switching multiple instruments as well as the assured playing of Brandi, the Twins, and the String Trio guaranteed a warm, intimate sound was matched only by the sheer pleasure of watching talented musicians who truly love playing together doing just that. The lack of electronic amplification gave the band the freedom to move about the space, walking and even dancing up and down the aisle at time, very much involving and including the audience in this truly memorable gig.