Ingrid Michaelson | 07.16.12

ingrid sqAt the end of the day, barring any storms, we all just long for someone to watch Netflix with.

 

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The Pageant, St. Louis

Based on her Twitter feed, blog, and a handful of interviews, I truly believe Ingrid Michaelson should be my new best friend. If that makes me sound like a vapid, pre-teen delusional, well, I can live with that. Here’s my checklist of why she’d be an uber-awesome gal pal: She’s super funny, smart, and insanely talented, and it seems like even just sitting around folding towels with her would be hella fun (though why we’d be folding towels is beyond me…welcome to my mind). Also, I really want her to teach me how she gets her hair in that cute top knot she was sporting the night of the show. In short, I think she’s the bee’s knees. And now, because I just learned she’s married to the equally witty Greg Laswell, I want to hang out with her even more, as I imagine it would be all adventurous double dates with silly hijinks in which much hilarity would ensue. Because I do actually have a foot in reality and no desire for a restraining order, I will accept that the closest I am going to get is 50 feet away at a concert.

To start off the evening, Laswell, sporting a jaunty fedora, came on stage, sat down at the piano, and opened with the achingly lovely “What a Day.” It set the tone for his portion of the evening, which was filled with slower, thoughtful ballads. He explained that he had just been in St. Louis a few weeks back with his full band, but was excited to be here again to support Michaelson on this tour. No offense to his very talented band, but I was elated, because there is nothing I love more than to hear an artist play solo—I love the simplicity of one person and one instrument. Laswell moved from the piano to the guitar to play “How the Day Sounds,” which he said became “bombastically large” after his label asked him to speed up his original slower version for the 2008 LP Three Flights from Alto Nido. Laswell spoke about how fellow musician Greg Holden covered it and slowed it down again, and he liked it so much better that way. So now he was basically “doing a cover of a cover of his own song.” I agree that the slowed-down version is superior, and it’s just more proof to the argument that label reps should stay out of the business of telling songwriters and musicians how to perform their work.

Up next was a gem from the new album called “Late Arriving,” which Laswell explained was a song written for his father who had been going through a rough time. He said, “It started as a way to say it’s all going to be OK, and turned into an apology of sorts.” The emotional journey continued as he returned to the piano for the finest cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.” It literally gave me goosebumps and, based on the complete hush of the audience, I was not the only one floored by it. Laswell has this quality to his voice that just picks up your insides and squeezes them. At times, his vocals remind me of Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows. He has that same crackled, plaintive tone that so beautifully expresses the feeling of the song. That quality can sometimes be abused and begin to get on the nerves because it takes on an air of whining, but Laswell has fantastic control and never overuses it.

I particularly love when he goes into the lower registers of his vocals, as he has such beautiful timbre there. This is the case when it comes to “And Then You.” Before playing this personal favorite of mine, he joked about how the most common tweet about him on Twitter is something along the lines of: “Having a Greg Laswell kind of day,” and how he always thinks, “Well, shit. I’m sorry.” He is aware that his music leans to the “rainy day, staring out the window, lost in your thoughts” variety, but said, “I made my bed and I’ll lie in it. I like sad songs.”

At the end of Laswell’s portion of the night, Michaelson came out to join him for a song they co-wrote. Laswell teased that, though people might think they sit around and write songs all the time, that they don’t. He said, “We sit around and watch Netflix.” One of two songs they’ve written together, “Landline,” came about because of a storm. He explained that the power went out and they were like, “Well, shit. Wanna write a song?” I truly hope they do this more often because “Landline” is a treasure of a tune. Later, in Michaelson’s set, Laswell would join her onstage for the other song they wrote together, “The Light in Me.” When they come together to sing, they are like a cute, quirky, indie version of Johnny and June. I definitely want more storms to cause power outages at their home.

After Laswell left the stage, there was a short break stage shuffle, as well as a shift in mood and tone as Ke$ha’s “Blow” blasted out of the speakers and Michaelson’s band took the stage. She entered just as they started into the heavily percussive intro to “Fire” from the new LP Human Again. From the get-go, Michaelson and her ridiculously talented band mates had the audience’s complete attention, and she proved again and again that she is one powerhouse of a vocalist, composer, and performer.

As mentioned, she’s known for her sense of humor and didn’t disappoint in that arena, either. Michaelson was probably born for Vaudeville, and her campy sense of humor is part of her charm. She commented on how nice it was to be back in St. Louis, and that the last time they played The Pageant the balcony was closed and it was a small group huddled around the stage. “Now there’s so many of you!” The crowd, in typical St. Louis fashion, was restrained and quiet at first. She asked, “Are you a polite people in St. Louie? Is it Louie or Louis?” When the crowd emphatically emphasized the “s,” Michaelson playfully hissed it back at us and then referenced the classic movie, Meet Me in St. Louis and the famous song, which she proceeded to belt out, inspiring the crowd to join along. Playing the ham, she held a long, sustained note at the end with a big flourish at the finish.

This wasn’t the only impromptu comedic performance of the night. After finishing a couple of songs and stopping to take a drink of water, she launched into a bit about Lady Gaga, who apparently doesn’t ever take a drink of water on stage. Michaelson joshed, “She doesn’t wanna appear too human,” continuing, “I would probably shower up here.” This somehow snowballed into a hilarious Weird Al Yankovic-ian parody of “Poker Face” about too tight pants, which then transmogrified into questioning if perhaps Lady Gaga had both sets of equipment to make her own babies. Most of the crowd found it hilarious, but to the “I’m so above it all” crankypants who yelled out something about singing her own songs already: You, sir, need to lighten up.

I probably do, too, because even though I enjoy the new, much more upbeat album, I am like Laswell: I love sad songs. In the past, Michaelson’s ballads have served as a sort of therapy for me. I swear that she and I must have had similar romantic nosedives. It should be no surprise that my favorite song on the new LP is the anguished “Ghost,” which is one of her darkest songs. After performing it solo on the piano, she declared, “It’s hard to want to do anything after that but lay on the floor and eat cookies and ice cream.” She prevailed, however, and went into a really pared down version of “The Way I Am,” which she said she’s performed “literally, like a thousand times.” Reworking it into this sweet and short adaptation on ukulele,”such a sweet and short instrument,” helped her to enjoy the song again, because she had to “do it differently or my head would explode.”

The pinnacle of the evening was when Michaelson had band mates Allie Moss and Bess Rogers rejoin her on stage for a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” They completely slayed it, took it by its skinny little neck and bear-hugged it with absolutely stunning harmonies. After a few more new tunes like “In the Sea” and “This Is War,” Michaelson encouraged some audience participation on “Ribbons,” and then ended with a cover that was another nod to the women of Top 40  music: Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” I enjoy that, while Michaelson eschews that world of record-label-manufactured pop—once saying in an interview, “Why have them take 85 percent of my income and tell me to wear more glitter?”—she is so obviously not stuck up about enjoying and covering the glitter=covered pop candy of her contemporaries.

For the encore, Michaelson concentrated on “all old songs,” which was more than OK by the audience, who gladly sang along to “Maybe,” “Be OK,” and “You and I.” The night was brought to its knees with “The Chain,” the end of which is sung in a round by Michaelson, Moss, and Rogers. The song is a terrific example of her ability to so succinctly express the anguish and, too often, repetitive nature of a relationship gone wrong. Again, it’s when Michaelson peers into the center of heartbreak that she really connects with listeners. I am not suggesting she only ever play sad songs. That couldn’t possibly be any fun at all, and as a fan, I am eager to see her experiment with more orchestration and upbeat pop tunes. However, her best songs remind me of a line from Margaret Atwood’s poem “The Woman Who Could Not Live with Her Faulty Heart.” The line goes, “Hearts are said to pound: This is to be expected, the heart’s regular struggle against being drowned.” Ingrid Michaelson has a finger on the pulse of romantic relationships, all of their ups and downs, and sings so sweetly that, while we may not always be able to forget troubles of the past, her songs encourage us to resist drowning in sorrow and always look to the future with hope. At the end of the day, barring any storms, we all just long for someone to watch Netflix with. | Janet Rhoads

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