It should not come as a surprise to anyone that in the last two years I have become a tremendous fan of Ingrid Michaelson. Not only does her particular brand of songwriting tend to hit all of the right notes for me (both when she is upbeat and cheerful as well as when she is channeling heartache and pain), but anyone who is familiar with my musical preferences is fully aware that I have a huge soft spot for the female singing-songwriting-piano-playing types. Even my wife will gladly acknowledge that my crush on Ingrid is huge.
Fan that I am, I wasn’t sure about going to see the show last night. Earlier in the year when tickets went on sale there were a lot of unknowns in the Jenkins household due to the pending arrival of baby “Fussy McShitpants” – I wasn’t sure it would be smart to commit to tickets given that cash and time would both likely be at a premium. As it turns out, my sister-in-law really wanted to go and my wife and I were the only two people she knew who had any interest at all. To hell with it – tickets were purchased, shows were attended, and maybe in the process I could have a couple of lessons with the sister-in-law (at the impressionable young age of 17) about important things like “sneaking cameras into concerts using a purse full of tampons” and “silently mocking people who obviously dressed themselves in the dark”.
On to the show. This old man likes to snag a seat whenever possible, so I wanted to get there early enough to get a decent spot. Seating is relatively sparse at The Pageant, but I figured that getting there right around when doors opened would be good enough to score a table. I was not expecting this to be a super-crowded show, but especially given that this was on a Monday night and we needed to be in the under 21 section I did not think that we would have a problem.
I. Was. Wrong.
I’m usually at The Pageant a handful of times each year – three times so far this year before Ingrid – and I don’t know that I have ever seen it so full so quickly. The balcony was open, the balcony at least appeared full, and right when doors opened there were enough people there to fill most of the floor and all of the seating (including the under-21 section). The floor it is – it isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but if there was a sunny side to it, at least I would be able to stand in the middle of the crowded floor and remain relatively unnoticed while recording a few songs here and there.
The show was scheduled to start at 8:00 – I had just assumed based on that start time that there was no opener. Once again, wrong: Singer/Songwriter Greg Laswell would be starting things off this evening. I hadn’t heard any of Greg’s songs before the show, so this was a set entirely full of new material for me. Greg played an 8 song solo set displaying his competencies as a pianist and a rhythm guitarist. I’ll be honest – I was worried that the crowd around us was going to be especially noisy and chatty, but once the set started the room was for the most part respectful. It was nice being able to hear quiet, intimate songs without having to block out cell phone chatter. Greg’s songs covered both the light and dark ends of the emotional spectrum (including a heartbreaking cover of the Kate Bush tune This Woman’s Work), but he especially seemed to shine when channeling melancholy – even some of the more upbeat songs occasionally had a kind of sadness to them (likely in part due to the solo acoustic setting), but it was an overall vibe that worked well for him and felt sincere. In between songs, Greg was talkative and funny, chatting with the audience and telling the stories behind some of the songs. An eight song set is really not enough exposure to form an opinion on a musician’s discography, but I certainly liked everything I heard and ended the set intending to check out some of his other work.
Sing, Theresa Says
This Woman’s Work (Kate Bush)
For the final song of his set, Greg brought out Ingrid to perform a song they co-wrote called Landline. At some point prior to this song, Greg mentioned that he was indeed married to the lovely and talented Ingrid. He talked a bit about (not) writing songs together – they’ve written two songs together, and he explained that while it’s easy to imagine two married songwriters sitting in their home writing together all the time, he and Ingrid never do and instead spend most of their time together watching Netflix. So the story goes: when the power went out and Netflix wasn’t an option, they wrote Landline.
Greg Laswell and Ingrid Michaelson – Landline
After a brief set change, Ingrid and friends came out and played a set that was mostly songs from her new album Human Again with a few covers and some favorites from her older albums sprinkled throughout. The band, including Ingrid, is six people – three guys and three gals. The ladies were front and center on stage, with Ingrid, Bess, and Allie on lead/backing vocals, and Ingrid playing guitar/uke/piano while Bess and Allie played lead and rhythm guitars, respectively. The gents all kept towards the back of the stage playing drums, bass, and a whole mess of other stuff (synth/keys, trumpet, et cetera).
Ingrid and company opened with Fire, the lead track from Human Again. True to the album cut, Fire started Ingrid’s set off with a burst of strings and extra percussion, with several of the other band members adding to the drums with their own floor toms. I love the addition of strings to non-classical music, but I’m always skeptical of using keys to recreate that sound live. Thankfully, the synth here sounded great and managed to completely avoid that fake-string-section sound that so many other bands seem to have. After Fire, the band played Palm of Your Hand, also from Human Again. For some reason this song hasn’t gelled with me quite as well as the rest of the album has, so it’s not a personal favorite, but it was performed really well and I found myself enjoying it by the end.
For the next few songs the band switched gears and played a few pre-Human Again tunes, starting with Soldier from the 2009 album Everybody.
By this point, the vibe in the room has totally changed from the opening set, and we have moved from “quiet, intimate setting” to “rock concert”, complete with all of the dancing, singing, and personal space violations that come with it.
Up next was Parachute, a single that Ingrid released between the last two full length CD’s. Parachute was a song Ingrid wrote that was used on Cheryl Cole’s album Messy Little Raindrops; Ingrid later released her own version as a digital single. This was followed up with Corner of Your Heart, a deeper cut from Ingrid’s 2006 album Boys and Girls. Corner of Your Heart was the first song of the night to feature Ingrid on the piano, and the combination of the piano, electric guitar, and vocal harmonies on this was really fantastic.
Ingrid stayed at the piano and returned to Human Again for the next few songs, starting with Do It Now. This is one of the faster, more “rocking” songs off of the new album, and for whatever reason I was surprised to hear so many people around me singing along. That isn’t a criticism – it’s a good enough song for sure – I just wasn’t expecting it to be a crowd favorite. Sure enough, though, everyone around me knew every word. In between songs here Ingrid was especially chatty, talking about the next song and the process of creating the music video for it. At a certain point in the story, Lady Gaga came up (Ingrid briefly dresses as her, among others, in the video), and Ingrid started telling a story about a show were her pants were too tight, and how she wound up playing a Weird Al style parody cover of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face about her pants being too damn tight. She and the band started playing the cover, but before they made it too far into it, Ingrid noticed a few younger kids in the audience and filtered herself (and the parody) before dropping any f-bombs. This evolved into a song about Lady Gaga having a penis, or maybe having a vagina, or maybe having both and being able to have her own babies. If there were young kids in the audience like Ingrid thought, some parents likely had some ‘splaining to do later that night. The crowd was eating this up, and it felt less like a band playing a concert and more like a group of friends screwing around and having fun.
Sadly I didn’t have the camera ready for this, so I don’t have a video to share, but you’ll just have to trust that this story really was way better than my retelling of it after the fact.
After revisiting the process of recording the music video for this song, the band played the single Blood Brothers next. To be honest, I’m fairly indifferent to this particular song so I don’t really have much to say about it, but it is catchy as hell and translated well to a live setting – I wound up enjoying it more than I thought I would.
Ingrid (and various band personnel) played a brief unplugged/acoustic set of four songs next. Up first was The Light In Me, another duet with Greg. He had mentioned before that they had only written two songs together – the first was Landline (played earlier in Greg’s set), and this was the other.
Ingrid Michaelson & Greg Laswell – The Light In Me
Next, Ingrid took the stage alone to perform Ghost, one of my favorites from her entire catalog and definitely one of the highlights of the night.
Perhaps her best known song at this point, The Way I Am was up next. This was a solo performance on the ukelele and was much slower and softer compared to the studio cut. She talked a bit about this song first, explaining that she has to change the style and arrangement of the song to keep it fresh for her since she plays it so often.
The Way I Am
The final song of the acoustic mini-set was a cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love, with Allie and Bess on vocals. Not going to lie, I’m not especially a fan of the song and I don’t really give a rat’s ass about Buon Eeever in general, but this arrangement made it feel like one of Ingrid’s own songs, and the three ladies really shone with the vocal harmonies.
Skinny Love (Bon Iver)
The rest of the band came back out to wrap up the main set, playing a run of four songs from the new album and closing the set with a cover. In The Sea was first, and like a few others this one has never really resonated with me, but the performance was solid and the band sounded great. This was followed by This Is War, a song that very much sounds like a signature Ingrid song. For my money, this is one of the better songs on the album, so I was glad to hear it make an appearance. Again, the vocal delivery of the chorus and the backing vocals were especially great – a common theme for this band. Next was Black and Blue, another favorite from Human Again. This one is kind of a funky jazzy tune that really gives Ingrid a chance to show off both the highs and lows of her vocal range. This song is at least a little bit of a departure from that signature sound found in This Is War, and it works really well.
Ribbons was the last Ingrid song of the set, and it was definitely the surprise of the night for me. I really like this song on the album, so I was hoping to hear it tonight, but I was not at all expecting it to have such a huge live presence. Not only did everyone in the band really give it their all for this tune, but they also incorporated an audience sing-along into the the middle of it, and wrapped it all up with the “big rock ending”. This one really had the crowd going probably more so than any other song of the night. It would have made a great closer on its own, but rather than end the set there the band wrapped things up with a pretty rocking cover of Rihanna’s We Found Love. The crowd may have been into Ribbons, but the room erupted for We Found Love. Everyone in the room was singing along and dancing, hands in the air. Well, everyone except me I suppose, as I didn’t know the song and actually had to look it up once I made it home. It was definitely a crowd pleaser regardless of my ignorance.
The band took a few minutes for an encore break and then came back out and played for more songs, starting with Maybe, the single from 2009′s Everybody.
After Maybe, the band played what I suspect is their second most well known song – Be OK. A short, upbeat tune, this was pretty consistent with the versions that have been on albums and/or on the radio.
All six band members left their instruments and stepped up to the mic arm-in-arm for an almost-a cappella performance You and I. This is a fun, quirky little song, and the band seemed to have a lot of fun with it before returning to their posts for one final song.
You and I
The night ended with what is without a doubt my favorite song from Ingrid’s entire catalog – The Chain. I would have loved to tape a video of this, but unfortunately my camera battery was just not having it. This song starts off with Ingrid singing and playing piano, and eventually as the song progresses each band member comes in with their respective instrument. About midway through the song the ladies start staggering their delivery of the chorus, and the song picks up a certain melancholic energy that results in a huge build up of intensity. Eventually the build up ends, the instruments stop, and Ingrid finishes the song by quietly delivering the last line “And I will take the chain from off the door”. The live performance of this was a little more extended than I would have expected, giving the various musicians a little bit of extra play time. I’m not going to call it jamming, but it did give the band a chance to be a little more flashy than the album cut of the song.
With that, the show was over, and in a perfect example of “doing it right”, my sister-in-law started forcing her way through the crowd and made her way up to the rail, claiming one of only three paper setlists handed out by the crew as they were breaking down the stage.
Admittedly, if it wasn’t for my sister-in-law wanting to go I probably would have passed on this show just because of how busy we’ve been lately. Having gone, I’m thankful that she needed someone to go with. I enjoyed practically everything about this show, and after the fact I almost certainly would have regretted not going had I passed. The band was great, the show was fun, and from where I stood it looked like both the band and the fans ended the night satisfied. For me personally, Ingrid Michaelson and friends were completely worth giving up a night of relatively hard-to-find free time.
What A Day
Sing, Theresa Says *
How The Day Sounds
This Woman’s Work (cover) *
And Then You
Landline (with Ingrid) *
Palm of Your Hand
Corner Of Your Heart
Do It Now
“Pants Too Tight” / ”Lady Gaga Has a Penis” (Poker Face parody/improv)
The Light In Me (duet with Greg) *
Ghost (solo) *
The Way I Am (solo) *
Skinny Love (Bun EEEver cover, just the ladies) *
In The Sea
This Is War
Black And Blue
We Found Love (Rihanna cover)
You and I (unplugged) *
*video linked above