Mika burst on to the scene a few years ago with a sugary pop masterpiece, Life in Cartoon Motion, and his joyful and colorful live shows, chock full of balloons, confetti, streamers and a giant pop band behind him. Now, he’s on tour supporting his newest album, The Origin of Love, and he’s taking a markedly different approach. This show, billed as “An intimate evening with” saw him behind a piano for the lion’s share of the evening, joined only by Max Taylor and Curtis Stansfield on a variety of instruments. It was stripped down, and it was wonderful.
I was reminded of the Ben Folds and a Piano tour that he embarked on. At that time, Ben Folds put the backing musicians away and just went out on the road by himself. Everyone left those shows saying “wow those are great songs, and he can really kill it on the piano.” After leaving Mika’s show, I didn’t think that about his piano playing. Instead, I thought “wow those are great songs, and he is a ridiculous singer.” Rather than hide his beautiful wide ranging singing voice behind a wall of sound, it became the clear lead instrument, at times accompanied. If you ever really wanted to hear Mika sing, this is the tour for you.
Because this was a more intimate setting, it left room for some crowd banter. While some of it was clearly off the cuff, talking at length with some of the folks in the front row, he admitted that the goal of the tour was to “seem spontaneous but be as scripted as Barbra Streisand.” While that’s a noble goal, and shows like this do have a tendency to approach script as they’re repeated, this was early in the tour still. He still needed to refer to an iPad for the chords of three of his own songs (although he admitted he needed it for 10 on the first night), so the spontaneity was still present. Additionally, he apologized to his band for “fucking up the setlist.” I have a picture of his actual printed one below, but it varies wildly from what was actually played toward the end of the show.
Packed into one third of the Great American Music Hall, pressed against the stage, were some of the most enthusiastic fans I’ve been around in quite some time. The chatty people were all in the back, only stopping their incessant noisemaking to sing along with some of the bigger hits like “Big Girl” and “Love Today.” But up front were hardcore fans paying rapt attention to every note that was sung, and kept their silence during the pauses that a somewhat quiet night of music wonderful in the first place. It’s always better to be in front of the “fun line” at a show, but tonight, it was more important than ever.
Overall, this was a wildly entertaining show, filled with gleeful music, an overjoyed audience, and decidedly more spontaneity than your average Barbra Streisand concert.