Prior to this week, I couldn’t have picked Ingrid Michaelson out of a police line-up. I had more than a good handful of her songs on my iPod, and had seen her on at least one TV appearance and multiple album covers, but she appears to be somewhat chameleonic if you judge by those: from the girl with the ponytail and the face paint on the cover of Be OK to the girl-next-door blonde on Everybody to the bundled-up brunette in hipster glasses in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, I really didn’t know who she was, other than a girl with a voice I really liked. Thankfully, last Wednesday night at the Fillmore, I had the opportunity to find out for myself just what Ingrid Michaelson is all about.
The show started with a band called Harper Blynn, who were hand-picked by Ingrid herself to open. I’d been listening to their brand new album, Busy Hands on repeat for several days: partly to learn the songs, but also partly because I really liked what I heard. The set opened with the heartbreakingly relatable “Bound to Break,” and before long they were introducing themselves, explaining that they were from NYC, but were really excited to play the famed Fillmore. Highlights included “I Think I’m Falling in Love,” “Sucker,” and a marvelous cover of Beyonce’s “Halo.” Ultimately, my take on this new-to-me band is simple: there are four members, each of whom has a job he does well, and they blend their voices in a really cool way. They fit perfectly in my favorite little niche of music, what I like to affectionately refer to as “left of mainstream”: oft-undiscovered (by the masses, anyway) talents that may or may not be indie, and are frequently of the pop-rock persuasion. Hey, we all have our favorites, right? Their set was a great one, and I look forward to getting better acquainted with their discography very soon.
Shortly after Harper Blynn’s exit, Ingrid Michaelson made something of a dramatic entrance: she was preceded by two back-up singers and the members of her band, each of whom had a drumstick or two and was beating a drum in time as Ingrid stepped onstage to a cheer from the crowd. So that’s what she looks like, I thought. She was pretty, dressed like a rock star in tight, shiny black pants and a printed tank top, and sky-high studded wedge shoes…and yes, those same glasses that reminded me of the hipsters in Portland. But it worked. She started with one of my favorites from her new album, Human Again, “Fire,” followed by another called “Palm of Your Hand,” and then stopped to say hello to the audience, admitting that she loved San Francisco. Happily, she explained that she’d been able to perform for a sell-out crowd the last time she was here (as well as this particular evening), saying, “don’t disappoint, is what I’m saying!” The next song, “Soldier,” was one I’d never heard.
After “Parachute,” she went off on some silly tangent with her backup singers that involved something about a “dirty Care Bear,” or as she said, “something dirty and something sweet and cute.” She then went on to dub the other girls “slutty Smurf” and “filthy My Little Pony” before trying to start her next song, but then realized how difficult she’d made it for herself to try to play a serious song. Someone from the crowd shouted out something about Sarah McLachlan, which prompted Ingrid to find her voice in a (purposefully) awful and mercifully brief cover version of “Angel” before she finally returned to the new album with “Do it Now.”
During the story that followed, about the trials and triumphs of her experience with the aforementioned Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, my mom (my date for the night) asked me if Ingrid was a singer or a comedienne because the crowd was laughing so much. I won’t go into all of her details, but the story did involve another brief mention of Care Bears, which lead to a “sexy Care Bear in the morning slow jam” that included something about a “shamrock on his tummy,” and finally she got back to her story about the frustration of lip synching (something she’s not used to doing, since she can sing), freezing all morning, and then nearly falling right at the end of her performance. The highlight of her story, for me, was the part about her having to read all about it later on Twitter. “Happy Thanksgiving,” she said, chagrined.
After “Blood Brothers” and “Ghost” came the first of two solos, a great cover of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” from the piano, after which Ingrid explained why she doesn’t often sing that song. Someone from the crowd shouted, “we’re HELLA into it!” She mentioned that she reads people talking shit without explaining themselves a lot on her Twitter feed, and one of the complaints was that she “never” plays any of the old stuff anymore. Contrary to that one person’s opinion, though, she said, “I’ve done the math!” Apparently, she does approximately 45% of her set from older albums, but in response to some complaint that “you just want to promote your new album!” she admits, “um, YES!” and then adds something about “eff you, at OMG Bieber girl.” (*writer’s note: this shouldn’t be taken seriously. I think she just pulled a funny fake Twitter name out of her own head for comic effect.)
Her next solo was one of her biggest hits, “The Way I Am,” and featured a crowd singalong on the chorus. When she got to the line “I’ll buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair,” some clever gentleman in the audience cried out “YES!” and the whole room chuckled. The next song was one I’m unclear about: it was called “San Francisco,” and I liked it, but whether it was one of her own or someone else’s that she reworked, I didn’t manage to successfully figure out. At any rate, the crowd ate it up, naturally. After an introduction to the band and her back-up singers, Ingrid sang “In the Sea,” and then mentioned something about her being a “song stealer,” and somehow started talking about the infamous Justin Timberlake sketch song, “Dick in a Box.” Eventually, she sang part of it, but lead into her own song, “This is War,” instead.
“Overboard” came next, followed by “Black and Blue,” and then an explanation to prepare us for what was to follow: Ingrid said that she and the band would do the 20-second fakeout for the encore. Before that, they’d thank us for coming out, give Harper Blynn a shoutout, and mentioned all the twists and turns of the evening. “It got a little weird… we laughed, we kind of cried…” she said. Then, more seriously, she admitted that with a “wonderful group watching,” she’d been allowed to open up and feel appreciated, for which she gave us a heartfelt thank you. The next song, which she said was the “last” one, was “Ribbons,” and she promised the crowd we had a part to sing in it.
After the brief fake-out, Ingrid and the band came back to play her biggest hit to date, “Maybe,” and then was joined by Harper Blynn for a quick reprise of “Halo,” and then a song Ingrid said was “kind of a family song,” saying, “we’re a family for a day so sing the words… if you know them.” The song, “You and I,” is such a cute, catchy tune, that even someone who hadn’t known the words was singing along by the end, and included a really cool clap-clap-stomp (much like the one made famous by Queen in “We Will Rock You”). It ended to a massive cheer, and the show ended with “The Chain,” during which I couldn’t miss the way the back-up singers harmonized beautifully with Ingrid’s voice.
So now I know not only what Ingrid Michaelson sounds like, but what she looks like and how fun she is to see live. Sure, I sort of wish I’d made myself go see her sooner, but all that really matters is that I have now, and I will again next time she’s in my area. If you’re like me and you’ve been dragging your feet, don’t wait: this new album is definitely my favorite of hers yet, and she’s a really great live performer! (Oh, and related: check out Harper Blynn – you won’t be sorry!)