If the audience crammed into North London’s audio jewel, the Union Chapel, were blown away by Ingrid Michaelson’s performance, then the feeling was pretty mutual. The artist was at pains to thank the crowd repeatedly for turning out and just as vocal in expressing her delight to be playing this venue, blessed as it is with such fabulous acoustics and clear sight lines. Styled on an Italian Romanesque church, the chapel seats around 850 people in a large octagonal space lined with galleries on five sides. It’s a formidable sight and Michaelson seemed in awe of it, though in a wholly positive way.
Last night saw a moderately older and more restrained audience than I’d noted at previous Michaelson gigs. It’s famously a venue where audiences respect the players and create regular pin-drop moments throughout the evening. Thursday night’s performance was no exception. Opening with the brisk “Palm Of Your Hand” from this year’s Human Again, the ukelele-charged singer was flanked by regular sidekicks, Allie Moss and Bess Rogers on guitars and sweet harmonies.
Michaelson’s kookie charm and naturally comic chat was as disarming as ever. London seems like a second home to the Staten Island singer-songwriter. She certainly had fun slipping into an Aussie twang while trying out her British accent on the crowd as she introduced “Parachute”, the song she co-wrote with Marshall Altman and a UK top 5 hit for Cheryl Cole. Its R&B feel makes it a bit of a leftfield offering from Michaelson but her own version works well, especially in the way the harmonies are integrated. Over the rest of the evening the three voices meshed seamlessly and were all the more effective for the sparingly sympathetic way they were used. Michaelson’s lead vocal trades power with vulnerability, rises with falls. At times it’s almost operatic, certainly theatrical and always believable.
The set was carefully sculpted to showcase the variety in Michaelson’s songwriting, the heart being a constant motif. Imagery of war and battle pervaded several songs but equally Michaelson could deliver a down-the-line plea for tolerance in the pacy “Blood Brothers”. A new sense of contentment emerged too, maybe reflecting Michaelson’s marriage to fellow musician Greg Laswell. She can still do the sad songs but with a new inflection as on the classic “The Way I Am” which was slowed and peppered with recognition. No more “you’re never getting married and you’re gonna be eaten by cats” as she put it.
Michaelson writes about the heart from the heart and this was strikingly illustrated by the plaintive balladry of “Ghost” which she delivered torch-like through solo piano. “Winter Song”, co-written with Sara Bareilles, supplied an elemental take on the Christmas season and the trio proved they were not completely infallible with a vocal glitch midway. There was also time to test out the natural amplification properties of the Chapel when the trio tackled and conquered Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” unmiked. Perhaps unsurprisingly the set ended with a Michaelson set-piece, “The Chain”. With three vocalists to complete the song’s round, there was no need for an audience member to take the stage this time.
“Be OK” was an inevitable first encore, while for “You And I” the girls were joined by rising Irish star, Gavin James, who had opened the show powerfully with a voice befitting his imposing, though youthful, frame. It seemed like the perfect ending; the quartet grouped around a single mic trading lines of this upbeat, optimistic song. It almost was but you sensed Michaelson didn’t want to leave. She had the final word with a solo performance of Elvis Presley’s 1961 hit, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. And neither could the audience who by now had lost all inhibitions.
Photography by Paul Woods.
Palm Of Your Hand
Men of Snow
The Way I Am
This Is War
Do It Now
Black And Blue
You And I
Can’t Help Falling In Love