with gallery / with poll: Ingrid Michaelson, and opener Sugar and the Hi Lows, satisfy sold out crowd
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What did you think of the show? Leave a comment and / or vote in the poll at the end of this post:
Sunday night’s sold out crowd at the Power Center cheered as the lights went down for Ingrid Michaelson’s entrance.
But then audience members stared at an empty stage for several long minutes as recorded music continued to play.
When Michaelson finally appeared - wearing boots, leg-hugging jeans, an orange sleeveless top, and her trademark glasses - the redheaded singer/songwriter apologized for the “weirdly long introduction.” (Sunday’s Ann Arbor show kicked off her new acoustic fall tour, and some bugs were clearly being worked out throughout the ninety-plus-minute set.)
“We thought, if there’s anywhere we could go where people would accept us, with all our flaws, it’s the wonderful town, village, city of Ann Arbor,” Michaelson said before launching into her set’s opener, “Palm of Your Hand” (from her newest album, “Human Again"), backed by Allie Moss (bass, vocals), Elliot Jacobson (drums), Saul Williams (keyboards).
Some minor sound balance issues plagued the first few songs (including “Soldier” and “Parachute”). This is likely because, as Michaelson confessed, they were playing some songs acoustically for the first time ever; but her bold, clear voice shone through.
In between songs, meanwhile, Michaelson spoke to the audience as familiarly and casually as she might a close friend, complete with self-deprecating humor (“I get so annoyed when people who are extremely good looking open the show”); thoughts on her high-waisted jeans (“They go up to my midsection. So it’s not a muffin top. I don’t know what to call it. What’s longer than a muffin?”); and an assessment of her songwriting tendencies (“[‘Men of Snow’] began as a happy song, then it became all about death and dying and the end of all things good. So merry Christmas.”)
Michaelson’s frank, goofy speeches are a considerable part of her charm as a performer, and make the more poignant moments of her concerts all the more riveting by contrast.
One of the evening’s hands-down highlights, for instance, was “Ghost,” which Michaelson played alone on the piano. Paring down the song and delivering it with aching passion, she took the crowd’s breath away.
Yes, Michaelson also included one of her biggest hits, “The Way I Am,” on her set list - after jokingly talking about how unhappy she’d been when she wrote it, and how, ironically, she had to listen to people repeatedly tell her that it was their wedding song - but she delivered it in a new, more pensive way, suggesting the boppy newlywed of the original version had since been replaced by an older, wiser partner who’s reaffirming her affections, despite the passage of time.
Things went off the rails a bit when Michaelson brought an enthusiastic audience volunteer onto the stage to sing a complicated part in “The Chain” - the vocals ended up getting very confused - but Michaelson had the audience happily singing two different parts on “Ribbons”; and the regular set’s closer, a memorable a capella cover of R.E.M.’s “Night Swimming,” featured Michaelson singing the various instrumental parts, and then playing them back while singing the song’s lyrics.
For an encore, Michaelson sang her other big hit, “Be OK,” by herself, in an effort to reclaim it (since it’s been used on so many commercials, it now makes Michaelson “think of apple juice and maxi pads and stuff”); and she closed with an infectiously fun singalong of “You and I,” surrounded by her band members, as well as Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup - also known as Sugar and the Hi Lows, who opened the show.
Based in Nashville, Sugar and the Hi Lows - during their very enthusiastically-received 45 minute opening set - offered sweet male-female harmonies and retro-sounding rock that called to mind the Stray Cats, or Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’ recent collaboration. Starting things off with the spunky “Two Day High” (see the video here), they also offered a rousing, spare cover of the Lumineers' “Ho Hey,” as well as several tunes off their self-titled album, and a couple of songs off their new Christmas EP (“Sugar Cookie” being my favorite). Watch for these two, or better yet, check them out online. My guess is they won't be an opening act for long.