Six years have passed since Michelle Branch last toured with any regularity and that tour was as an opening act for the Goo Goo Dolls.
In April, she released “Hopeless Romantic,” her fourth studio album, more than 13 years after its predecessor, “Hotel Paper.” Extended absences from any pop-culture scenes can torpedo any career; the longer the absence the longer and more rugged the road back to relevancy.
Tuesday night, Branch brought her “Hopeless Romantic” tour to the Uptown Theater, where a crowd of about 600 awaited her.
Backed by a band that included drummer Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, her fiancé, she regaled them with songs old and new, songs about love, heartache and disappointment, songs cast in various shades of folk, pop and rock, songs created by an artist who is clearly reinvigorated and happy to be back on the road.
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She opened with “Best You Ever,” the power anthem that opens “Hopeless Romantic” and a eulogy for a marriage that was ending: “We used to be for real / Now you make me feel / Like I’ll never be enough.”
She followed that with “Breathe,” a hit from “Hotel Paper,” her second album, then the title track to the new record.
“Hopeless Romantic” signifies a shift in Branch’s sound, from pop to something harder and more propulsive, a change evident in songs like “Living a Lie,” “Fault Line” and “Temporary Feeling,” which gave Carney and her guitarist, Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses), some room to flash some hefty riffs.
Branch is a veteran performer, at ease and comfortable on stage. She played rhythm guitar throughout and showed off a voice that is powerful and agile and had no trouble handling the heavier rock moments.
She revived “Leave the Pieces,” a hit by the Wreckers, the country-ish duet she started with Kansas City native Jessica Harp. She performed that with band mates Megan McCormick and Erin Manning, the three of them gathered around one microphone, old-time country style.
The set list also included “The Game of Love,” the blockbuster duet she recorded with Santana. This version was slightly slowed down and re-arranged but still ripe with melody.
For the encore, she resurrected “Goodbye to You,” a breakup ballad from “Broken Bracelet,” her debut album, released in 2000, then closed with “Everywhere,” the lead track to “The Spirit Room,” her second album but first on a major label.
She was 18 then and on the verge of pop stardom. There’s no telling yet whether she’ll return to that stature, but Tuesday she proved there is rightfully a place for her in the music world.
Best You Ever; Breathe; Hopeless Romantic; All You Wanted; Heartbreak Now; Knock Yourself Out; Leave the Pieces; The Game of Love; Living a Lie; Temporary Feeling; You Get Me; City; Fault Line; Are You Happy Now?; Goodbye to You; Everywhere.