I fully admit to being one of those ” Crazy Women” Brandy Clark sings about on her debut album ” 12 Stories”, and jumping on a transatlantic flight to catch her in concert is my new ” norm” it seems (this was the second time in four months!). A combination of the legendary venue and the fact that the Valentine’s Day gig was two days after the Grammys (where she was nominated for her fifth and sixth awards) caused my credit card to simply fall out of my purse. You can keep your designer handbags and shoes!! Sadly it was another year that a Grammy didn’t come her way (her time will come I know, in fact it may be something I’ll put a bet on!) but the love for her that was evident in abundance at the Troubadour was proof indeed that she is every inch a winner in her fans’ eyes.
Fortunate enough to secure a seat in the front row of the balcony of the sold out 500 capacity venue, I watched as the all standing downstairs area filled up, apparently some people had been queuing since noon to get the best vantage point. The history of the building screams at you as soon as you enter, posters and autographed memorabilia of the iconic artists who have performed there adorn the walls and it was clear it was to be a very special evening even before anyone took to the stage.
An opening set from U.K. born, now LA resident Greg Holden on acoustic guitar made it evident that thankfully everyone was there to enjoy the music, not always the case stateside where the audiences can be less than respectful! A very confident performer, he engaged the crowd from the start and managed to get us singing along on several occasions to his own compositions. But the applause he got was nothing in comparison to the eruption of cheering and clapping when Brandy’s name was announced and she took position centre stage on her own to get her 70 minute set underway with ” Hold My Hand”. Risky for a singer to start with a ballad and have no support from accompanying musicians ? For some artists possibly, but I have always claimed that Brandy’s vocal skills tend to be overlooked (critics tending to concentrate on her songwriting ability) and to see her live is proof, if needed, that the transition she has made in recent years from writer to all-round artist had been hugely successful. Even great songs rely on a performer’s ability to bring them to life, like an actor with their script, and the power to convey the huge range of emotions contained in Brandy’s songs, with total technical accuracy, is a rare and special gift in singers, but one with which Brandy has definitely been blessed and which was demonstrated throughout the entire concert.
As the song was ending it was her “ wing man” and lead guitar player Miles Aubrey’s turn grace the stage, playing the introduction to her latest single “ Love Can Go To Hell” the start of which was simply beautiful, being practically acapella with just Miles playing a few notes and chords as accompaniment until Brandy’s guitar joined in at the second verse……but even then this version was slower and gentler than that on the album, and this vibe continued as bass player Greg Watson completed the line up for the heart wrencher “Just Like Him”. This trio format was one I hadn’t seen live before (it was the line up for Brandy’s most recent Opry appearance) but one I loved throughout the evening, the addition of a rhythm section giving extra depth sonically as did Greg’s backing vocals, alongside Miles.
So, a dramatic start, which worked very well, and finally Brandy got to greet us with “Happy Valentine’s Day”, thanking us all for sharing it with her (mentioning some people had come a long way, UK included!) and saying the happy (!!) start to the show was continuing with “ The Day She Got Divorced “ ! With that, she messed up the lyrics after just a few lines and called for a re-start, jokingly saying that the audience probably knew the words better than she did before referring to Adele’s similar mishap at the recent Grammy ceremony and saying “ but unlike her I’m able to say that it was a fuck-up” !
Brandy was correct about crowd’s familiarity with her lyrics and throughout the entire show there was a lot singing along and clapping going on, with the next number “ Girl Next Door” evoking a particularly enthusiastic reaction. This was something she encouraged, and you could see her feeding off the energy in the room which is something impossible for me to capture in this review but believe me, it was electric!
Splitting the set into a few “mini sets”, there was a collection of what Brandy called “ substance abuse” songs up next (she jokingly said that even if she wrote a lullaby themed album there’d be a drinking song on it!) so we had “ Get High”, “Smokin’, Drinkin’, Cheatin’’, “Take A Little Pill” and her as yet unrecorded beauty “ When I Get To Drinking” ……followed appropriately with “Hungover”!
Her “musical influences” mini set followed, (“if you don’t know them, note them down!”) and I was thrilled to hear her cover Loretta Lynn’s classic “ You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man” (she had performed this a few days previously at a tribute concert ) followed by “Blue Bayou” (“my mom, who is here tonight is a huge Linda Ronstadt fan and always says if you can sing this song, you’re a singer!” ) and finally the Buck Owens classic “Together Again”.
A run of songs from her sophomore, Grammy nominated , album “ Big Day In A Small Town” was next up next a big thank you to her label, Warner bros was included) starting with her playing solo on “ Three Kids, No Husband” before Miles and Greg rejoined her for the fun “ Broke”, then the album’s title track, and finally “ Daughter” …..”of the types of songs I enjoy writing, heartbreak ones are first on the list followed by revenge songs!”.
Closing the set with the ever-popular “ Stripes” the stage was empty for only a short while before the three musicians returned for their encore (Brandy clutching a polystyrene cup, yep no airs and graces with her!). “ You Can Come Over” ( my personal favourite of hers, if I was forced to chose) and “Pray To Jesus” rounded off what I can only describe as the perfect concert (thanks must go out to the sound and lighting techs, both first class ) and this is an evening that will live with me for ever. If my plane had crashed on my way home I’d have died a happy gal…..but thankfully I’m still here to write this review! After the show Brandy tweeted that it was “maybe my favourite Valentine’s Day EVER!!!!” so there’s no doubt that she had fun up there on the stage, which was evident to all who were lucky enough to be there. And this Crazy Woman count herself as extremely lucky.
I’m sure it won’t be long until we see Brandy return to the UK, hopefully for my bank balance’s sake if nothing else, keep an eye on her website (and of course, here!) for any news!
Review written by Lesley Hastings