Things are looking up for we Brits. Twice when native New Yorker, Ingrid Michaelson, hopped across the pond for some European dates, she managed one-off shows in London at Water Rats and Bush Hall respectively. This time around she warmed up with gigs in Manchester and Birmingham for her London show, now at a larger venue, Scala. Not that the singer ever requires a jump-start. She seems to be gigging endlessly and had just completed an exhaustive US tour before heading to Europe.
Built around the time of the First World War, Scala is a grand, imposing building which has spent most of its life as a cinema and in the early 70s became a live music venue, famous for its all-nighters until 1974 when it lost its late-night license. After some unsuccessful makeovers, Scala finally staged live music again in 1999 after a radical transformation and now hosts gigs, club nights and multi-media events. Its a spacious venue but tonight was way too full for comfort, meaning many people must have found it hard to see anything as they streamed into the back of the auditorium only to find the steps down to the main floor crammed with people who were there for the duration. The numerous and ever so zealous security men might have been better employed keeping a path open so that latecomers could reach the said floor, rather than pacing the labyrinth of outer stairwells, bitching about wrist bands.
The difficulties getting in to the building meant missing most of the support act, Greg Laswell. Like the headliner, the LA based singer-songwriter ought to have shares in the TV show, Greys Anatomy, which has featured his songs several times. Laswell delivered an interesting version of This Womans Work by Kate Bush, one of the songs on his recent Covers EP and enjoyed a packed, hushed audience for his set. It was a dream gig for any solo performer, a captive audience too scared to leave their posts in case they never made it back into the hall. From what we saw, the singer left with plenty of new fans from the experience.
The main event was almost like a homecoming for Ingrid Michaelson. The Staten Island songstress was greeted by a full-on, rapturous crowd, most of whom knew her songs backwards. Michaelson attracts a mixed bag, ex-pats and Brits, different ages, suits, indie chicks and a definite young girl-screamer element. Screams and whelps hit out as red light turned the drapes crimson and the stage momentarily resembled that bizarre cabaret set from Mulholland Drive. What seemed like dry ice blew thinly and apologetically onto stage right. Or maybe this was the cooling system mentioned by the singer later in her set? Taking the stage alongside her trusty sidekick, the redoubtable and highly talented, Allie Moss, on guitar and backing vocals, Michaelson was relaxed and chatted with the audience in her inimitable style. Who else could extract more laughs from her opening comments than your average comedian and immediately divides the audience into two halves of awesome and sexy people to provide the chorus for her opener, the quirky take on finding love, Die Alone.
Ive scarcely seen a performer more at ease with an audience than Ingrid Michaelson. The girl is genuinely funny, combining kookie charm with indie chic and the rare ability to make the rehearsed seem totally improvised. She invites you into her world and gives you the most comfortable seat. The Chain is a set piece at most Michaelson shows, a composition for two or more voices in which each joins at a different time with the same melody, known as a round. The singer appeals for a third vocalist to help out with the song and a member of the audience steps up and, blow me, sings it pretty damn perfectly. It should be a set-up but it isnt and it is a little phenomenon that speaks volumes about Michaelsons connections with her audience and fan base.
Michaelson treated her devotees to an extended set of 15 songs and three encores with lots of chat in between. The material spanned all three studio albums with the focus on her August release, Everybody, which has pitched the artiste closer to the mainstream while retaining much of her core indie allure. She mentioned that shed recently been ill but you wouldnt have guessed this from the singers consummate performance, which grew stronger as the night wore on. You are struck by the power and range but also the subtlety of her voice. She is at ease in high and low registers, her voice cracks but never gives way.
High spots are hard to pick as theres not a dud song in her repertoire, period. Michaelson threw in two new untitled songs, which impressed on first hearing, confident enough to close the show with one of them. This followed the stunning Keep Breathing and, joy of joys, her version of Radioheads Creep. Theres a hot duet with Greg Laswell on another new joint offering and a tender, heartfelt version of Cant Help Falling in Love, from her Be OK album. The singalong Everybody and the single Maybe from the new record also impress. Her wicked introduction to the breakthrough song The Way I Am was as priceless as the song delivery itself. Her lyrics are always intelligent, wryly observed and accessible. That enough highlights for you?
I would have loved to hear Breakable or Masochist from her astonishing debut Girls & Boys and the divine Sort Of from the latest album but thats being picky. There were quite enough riches to gorge on. Ingrid Michaelson may still be relatively unknown here in Britain but a packed Scala was left in no doubt that they had just witnessed a true star. She returns to these shores on May 26, 2010 for her biggest UK show yet at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Get your tickets early, this will be a sell-out.
Once Was Love
You And I
Cant Help Falling in Love
Duet (with Greg Laswell) as yet untitled
New Song (as yet untitled)
Mountain & the Sea
The Way I Am
Creep (Radiohead cover)
New Song (as yet untitled)