I saw Michelle Branch in concert a few weeks ago and I was floored. I don’t know why my expectations were so low prior to the concert, to be honest. Maybe because, despite knowing her first two records by heart 14+ years later, I hadn’t listened to either in years? Maybe because I wasn’t sure how I felt about her new album, which I only listened to a few times after buying my concert ticket? Maybe because tickets were only $30 and I would be okay with a mediocre show for that price?
Whatever the reasons for my unreasonably low expectations were, I was wrong. I was blown away by her show. She played a tight set list, with a good mix of new stuff and old. She performed hits like “Everywhere” and “All You Wanted” in this slower, stripped-down sort of way I had never heard before. And for each of the songs I knew by heart, I was belting out the words along with every single other person in the audience. It was a great night, and I’d see her again in a heartbeat.
Halfway through the concert, after Michelle had already played “All You Wanted” (my favorite song of hers ever), I said to one of my friends, “I don’t know who is happier right now: middle and high school Amanda, or me right now.” Her response? “Forget that, I wouldn’t have been cool enough to go to a Michelle Branch concert the first time she was popular! I’m loving life now!”
She had a point; I wouldn’t have been cool enough to go to a Michelle Branch concert at age 11 either.
I was surprised that even though it had been a literal decade since I had listened to some of her songs, listening to them brought me right back to that time in my life. All those times of listening to “All You Wanted” or “Breathe” on repeat meant that, for better or worse, those lyrics are ones I’ll never forget. When Michelle sang “Goodbye to You” as the first song of her encore, I shocked even myself by getting really emotional. Sure, it’s a tearjerker of a song, one that everyone can relate to on some level because who hasn’t gone through an emotional breakup like that? But my teen nostalgia was something fierce that night and all of a sudden I found myself having to take a moment mid-chorus. Michelle’s music was such a big part of my adolescence; her songs spoke to me in a way very few artists do now. To be able to see her to perform those very songs live, years later, when I no longer think of my sixth grade crush when I hear “Everywhere” or my ninth-grade sort of but actually not boything of sorts when I hear “Are You Happy Now?” It was more moving than I could’ve imagined the whole experience to be.
Because, up until that concert, I didn’t realize just how big of a role Michelle’s music played in shaping my adolescence, particularly the first half of it. With each song she played, I could pinpoint specific instances in my life where that song was basically the soundtrack to that experience. I spent the better part of that night awash with nostalgia, and I was stunned by much her music meant to me. I could remember listening her first album, “The Spirit Room,” on the plane ride from the U.S. to Australia when we moved, and how I would scrawl out the lyrics to my favorite songs from that record into my journal. Or how I’d listen to to her second record, “Hotel Paper,” one summer in Hong Kong, wearing my Discman battery out when I was taking the MTR back to my aunt’s apartment. Michelle’s side project, The Wreckers, didn’t really have an impact in Australia, and after a while I thought Michelle had quit the music scene forever. When I came back to the States, I continued to listen to her first two albums, but I was a little older then, and a little more open to allowing other songs from other artists to influence my memories.
Michelle’s newest material, sadly, doesn’t have the power over me that her older stuff does. It likely never will, largely because not only have my music tastes changed (and she has changed as an artist too!) but so has my relationship with music. I listen to music differently now; I no longer buy records and instead rely on Spotify. I don’t write out the lyrics to my favorite songs in my journal; I don’t even really have a journal anymore, for the most part. Most importantly, I’m no longer an adolescent. While my twenties will shape the rest of my life the way my adolescence shaped my twenties, things are different now. Better, now. And so I will continue to listen to her new album, Hopeless Romantic, with the knowledge that through no fault of anyone, there will never be another The Spirit Room or Hotel Paper. But that’s okay. That’s why I went to her concert.