A night with Ingrid Michaelson

It took us four weeks, but Kates and I finally took some time out to celebrate our wedding anniversary last night ...

With a night on the town and a concert, featuring Ingrid Michaelson ... If The Weepies were our soundtrack for 2008, Ingrid Michaelson has been our soundtrack for 2009. We couldn't think of a better way to celebrate.

We left Pheebs with Grandma and Grandpa for the night and ventured into downtown Milwaukee ... The weather couldn't have been more perfect, the scenes more gorgeous. The air was warm and the trees along the riverwalk were bright gold ... We stuffed ourselves with a dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery and marveled at the way the Bengals were pummeling the Bears on the TVs overhead ...

Soon it was off to the show ...

Last night's concert venue was the Turner Hall ballroom, a new one for us but a pleasure to take in, nonetheless. Classic architecture. Hardwood floors that sloped left and right. And a creaky staircase that carried us to the ballroom. ... Inside the ballroom, tables and chairs were arranged into cabaret seating, each of the tables capped with candelight. Kates and I claimed a table in the second row, in line with centerstage. We were set.

* * *

Matthew Perryman Jones opened the show, playing to the mellow vibe that came with the venue and the mostly adult crowd. ... The whole time I could hardly stop thinking about how familar his voice sounded and yet I couldn't put my finger on how or why it sounded so familiar. Like Ingrid's music, I also couldn't stop thinking about how well his music would fit on "Grey's Anatomy." (After further review, it turns out we have heard his voice before; a couple of his songs are in our music library and he has been on Grey's.)

He moved from ballads to slow rock jams, playing all of them solo on an acoustic guitar. He also played a lovely cover of Patti Griffin's "Top of the World." And there were some amusing interactions with the audience.

He introduced "When It Falls Apart," a song he co-wrote with Katie Herzig by explaining that it included some hand-clapping -- but nothing fancy like Ingrid does, no double-claps or anything like that ... Then, he stopped halfway through the song to give the crowd a "heads-up" and explain a change in the hand-clapping. Afterward, he called it "the best clapping involvement this whole tour."

He introduced "Until the Last Falling Star" by explaining "there's just not enough melodramatic love songs out their in the world ... this is my contribution." ... Before playing his last song he encouraged the crowd to buy on of his CDs and to keep in mind that all the proceeds go to "a child in need." Then he paused, added, "That child in need is my daughter ..." and drew much laughter from the crowd.

Here's his set list ...

1. (Unknown)
2. "Letting Go"
3. "When It Falls Apart"
4. "Rain or Shine"
5. "Refuge"
6. "Top of the World"
7. "Until the Last Falling Star"
8. "Save You" (performed with Chris Kuffner and Allie Moss)

* * *

Ingrid Michaelson and her band took the stage shortly after 9 and promptly offered a hint of what was to come with a cool guitar jam to open "Soldier" and begin their set.

For the next hour and 40 minutes the band served up a healthy dose of music spanning Michaelson's mounting catalog -- from her breakthrough "Girls and Boys," to her latest, "Everybody." (We have 'em all.)

Michaelson's songbook is long on quirky songs dealing with melancholy feelings of lost love, relationships gone wrong and wishful thinking. But Sunday night's show had few hints of such sadness ... One moment did come after the band left the stage and Ingrid went solo on her keyboard for "Sort Of." After finishing the song, she fought off a lump in her throat and said, "Mmm, that's a sad song." A couple songs later, remaining solo, she performed her cover of "Can't Help Falling In Love," and let the crowd take over each time she came to the chorus. The crowd's soft singing was so lovely and moving, it sent chills down my spine.

Mostly, though, Michaelson and her band engaged -- and entertained -- the crowd with upbeat sing-a-longs, humor and cool pop rock songs. As expected.

There couldn't have been more than 500 people in the ballroom. The whole thing felt like Miss Michaelson and her band mates were guests in our living room. It felt as though they were sincerely interested in giving us the best show possible -- not just playing another show in some city along the way to selling a few more downloads.

That's part of the appeal of Ingrid Michaelson, I think -- that she engages her audiences with raw emotion and personality. And, in just that hour and 40 minutes, she has you thinking that just maybe we could be good friends.

The band moved effortlessly from slower, yearners like "Die Alone" and "Giving Up" to rocking jams -- like "The Hat," "Be OK," and "Everybody" -- powered by steady, thumping drum beats and loud electric guitars. Since we last saw them at Summerfest, clearly, the band has grown -- which is a sure product of their hard touring.

The arrangements, the sunny harmonies, snaps and hand claps -- all of it sounded tight and polished. The group huddled around the mic and stamped their feet for the cute and fun "You And I." They added a country twang to "Giving Up" and "Men of Snow" featured an accordion.

And yet, it was evident in their playfulness on stage that the band doesn't it take itself too seriously. That's part of that appeal thing again.

Rather than having to disappear from the stage and make the crowd applaud for an encore, Ingrid explained, the band was just going to hide somewhere. So they did: Allie Moss behind a stool; Ingrid behind the drum set; and drummer Elliot Jacobson in clear view but holding a skinny drumstick in front of his face.

In the midst of going solo for three songs in the middle of the show, Ingrid told the crowd she had come up with a new slang word -- scrubs. Then, she explained, she came up with the phrase "no scrubs" and thought it was so cool that she wanted to write a song about it ... The little story led to her playing a baroque-styled cover of TLC's "No Scrubs," complete with Ingrid doing the vocals like an opera singer -- or better yet, like Ana Gasteyer's Bobbie Mohan-Culp.

The band also performed a hilarious song about their love for Mexican food, which I can only guess, judging from the chorus, was titled "We Love Mexican Food." The music was exactly that of "Maybe," but the band changed the lyrics and included a chorus that rattled off their favorite Mexican meals.

On the rollicking "Locked Up," -- arguably my favorite of the set -- the band invited the crowd into a call-and-answer segment after the bridge. Band members took turns singing the "ba da da, ba da da" and having the audience repeat it ...

But when it came to bassist Chris Kuffner's turn, he went off on a scat that the audience couldn't possibly have recalled. The audience and the band burst into laughter (It was hard to tell if the rest of the band knew he was going to do that, or the band was simply laughing at Kuffner's spotlight-stealing effort.). ... Then! -- to seal the song and all the goodness of its rocking climax -- the band suddenly stopped playing and Ingrid shouted, "Switch!" On cue, all of the band members traded instruments. Ingrid landed on the drums, counted off the beat and the band finished the song.

The banter with the crowd was never lacking. Throughout the show she commented about the unnerving slope of the stage, saying at one point, "Seriously, guys, you could put a marble on here. It'll roll right down."

Before singing "Once Was Love," she asked about the crowd's age range. When an 11-year-old girl was pointed out, Ingrid sighed and said, "OK, good to know," before fidgeting and figuring out a way to appropriately explain the song. She began referring to the love interest in the song as a beloved doll whom you love and "sleep with a lot." But then one day, Ingrid explained, you decide you don't love that doll as much as you used to and it's best to take that doll to the thrift shop, go out and get a new doll.

By the time she got to her most recognizable tune, "The Way I Am," it seemed like an afterthought. Surely by now she's sung the song to death and the band seemed to breeze through it so fast that it probably wouldn't have been missed. ... "Keep Breathing," her breakthrough "Grey's Anatomy" anthem was absent from the set. And that was OK.

Here's Ingrid's complete set list (with videos of some of the highlights) ...

1. "Soldier"
2. "Die Alone"
3. "Once Was Love"
4. "The Hat" (This video includes Ingrid's fun scolding of the audience for their poor singing. Also keep in mind as you listen to her "story" that by this time the 11-year-old girl had been pointed out to her.)

5. "You And I"

6. "Be OK"

7. "The Chain"

8. "Sort Of"
9. "No Scrubs"
10. "Can't Help Falling in Love"
11. "Giving Up"
12. "Mountain and the Sea"
13. "Everybody"
14. "Men of Snow"
15. "Locked Up"
16. "The Way I Am"

17. "Maybe"
18. "We Love Mexican Food"
19. "Far Away"

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