Remember Michelle Branch?
The dark-haired, big-voiced singer who burst onto the pop-rock scene as a teenager, won a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist, and knocked out a bunch of best-selling albums and singles?
Seems it wasn’t that long ago that she and Carlos Santana were collecting a 2002 Grammy for “The Game of Love.”
But that was 15 years ago and, though she continued performing as a solo artist and collaborator, Michelle has laid low in recent years. I’ve always liked her voice, though, so I grabbed a chance to see her live in Portland.
Now 34, she’s touring the U.S. in support of a new album released earlier this year. Her Wednesday night at the Hawthorne Theatre drew an all-ages crowd for an hour-long set. It’s an intimate space, with room for about 500 people, the kind I like in order to get up-close to an artist rather than viewing a big screen image in a huge arena.
After a thoroughly forgettable warm-up band, Michelle came out to a raucous welcome and promised a mix of the new and old.
Can’t say I was blown away. Biggest factor was a sound system that made everything sound muffled. Secondarily, gotta say I wasn’t feelin’ the new material. Either way, it’s hard to get into the music when it isn’t as clear as it should be.
Branch had a nice rapport with the crowd and seemed genuinely happy to be performing in a small venue. The audience came alive and sang along on a couple of her biggest hits — “Breathe” and “All You Wanted.”
She brought a trio of women onto the stage, including a fiddle player, to play a stripped-down version of “Leave The Pieces,” a hit from the 2006 album “Stand Still, Look Pretty.” On that CD, she collaborated with Jessica Harp on a great set of songs that drew on their respective pop and country roots and earned Michelle one of her four Grammy nominations.
As for “The Game of Love”? Wish I could say Santana snuck onto the stage and blew everyone away. This version featured an old-school saxophone player doing the guitar solo part. Interesting, but nowhere near as good.
This was my first time at the Hawthorne. Probably won’t be my last, but it’s not nearly as inviting a space as others around the city — Aladdin Theater, Crystal Ballroom, Wonder Ballroom, Mississippi Studios.
As for Michelle Branch, I wish her well on the tour. She’s a talented lady, working hard to resurrect a career that once seemed boundless.