On tour for their new album By the Way, I Forgive You, Brandi Carlile stopped by Ann Arbor, graduating from The Ark (where they have played earlier in their career) to the Michigan Theater.

Brandi Carlile’s mix of Americana and folk rock sounds like it’s meant for coffee shops on albums — but not when they play live. The live band consists of lead singer, Brandi, as well as a pianist, a string trio and the Hanseroth twins, Phil and Tim, on electric bass and guitar. Brandi’s powerful vocals aren’t lost on the tracks, but the energy of the live concert show the recordings don’t do the band justice. 

Halfway through the show, Brandi and the twins stepped out from behind their mics to perform a three-part harmony rendition of “Cannonball,” with just a tenor acoustic guitar, stripping it back to their roots. They met while the twins were rising in the Seattle rock scene and Brandi was still a busker. After improvising three-part harmony in a living room, they started Brandi Carlile over seventeen years ago.

The stripped down song showcases the vocal abilities of the twins, either one Brandi claims could front the band, yet the performance only confirms why the band is named after Brandi.

Her songwriting abilities are undeniable with on point lyrics and catchy but original hooks. Her solo version of “The Mother” about her daughter Evangeline proves she could do this alone. The audience didn’t move, absolutely sucked into her charisma and primed to give a standing ovation.

Even for full-piece bands, auditoriums and assembly halls are difficult venues to play. In places like Saint Andrew’s Hall in downtown Detroit, where the majority of the audience stands jam packed and people bounce off one another to create an amped up vibe, the task is easy. All the musicians need to do is light a spark.

Michigan Theater, though, is meant for classical music performances or showtunes on an organ before a foreign film. The regular attendees aren’t hormonal teenagers or intoxicated young adults, but senior citizens and nerdy film students who prefer to sit.

This makes Brandi Carlile all the more impressive for flipping the atmosphere Saturday night from an arthouse movie theater to a shaking rock‘n’roll concert hall.

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