Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ingrid Michaelson at the Troubadour

Closing out her North American tour, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson headed to the Troubadour for the first to two sold out shows in Los Angeles. I’ve seen her live before, but after this performance, I have made myself a solemn vow to see her in concert every time she comes to LA. This girl puts on a hell of a show. She is a consummate entertainer, to say the least, and left me with a perma-smile on my face the entire night.

Shortly after 10:15pm, the band entered to Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” and started playing their version of the song. Immediately following the cover, Ingrid went right into her song “Soldier” (off her current album, “Everybody”). After a bit of ukulele trouble, she moved over to her keyboard to perform an older song, “Breakable.” After sharing a story of how Leann Rimes quoted her lyrics on Twitter, she busted out in to a short little ditty, appropriately titled “Famous People Know Who I Am” then dedicated the bubbly sounding, but lyrically heartbreaking “Once Was Love” to none other than Leann Rimes.

Then came time for “Die Alone” - her obligatory ‘happy song’ (as she called it). Don’t let the title fool you, it really is a song about hope in finding true love and realizing that maybe you won’t die alone. See? Happy song! With the ukulele problem now solved, it was audience participation time where we all sang back the chorus to “Mountain and the Sea.”

During the fun and catchy love long, “You and I,” each band member got to sing a little line and everyone joined in on the foot-stomping and hand-clapping at the end. After that, Ingrid was left alone on stage to regale the audience with her story of meeting R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, then proceeded to make my heart nearly explode with delight when she covered my favorite R.E.M. song, “Nightswimming.” It was a remarkable a capella rendition using a looping pedal to record her voice harmonizing the melody as she sang the lyrics over it. The entire crowd was captivated, even the ones who had never heard the song before.

After throwing in some new tunes, including “Annihilate” (which is a pending title) and her current single, “Parachute,” she began to sing one of my favorites: “The Chain.” At this point, I’d like to take a moment to really convey exactly how insanely good her vocals are. This girl has got chops. I’m really not a fan of that expression, but there’s really no other way to put it. Her vocal prowess is top notch. During “The Chain,” her voice filled the entire room, with Allie Moss and Bess Rogers singing the backing vocals in a round.

Learning her lesson the hard way in previous shows, she knows now never to play ‘the hit song’ first for those who just came to hear that one song. Her big hit, “The Way I Am” came about an hour into the show followed by another hit, “Maybe” (which is the song that takes me days to get out of my head once I’ve heard it.) I don’t think her fans could have asked for a better closing number than Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which came complete with synchronized line-dancing and a fun little cheer-type pyramid at the end. While I love her original songs, I always look forward to seeing her live just to hear her cover songs, whether it’s Radiohead’s “Creep,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” or the theme song to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

Instead of doing the traditional “run off stage and come back on two minutes later for the encore,” Ingrid and the band opted to simply have the lights go down and they each found a hiding spot on stage until the audience applause grew to deafening heights, waiting for an encore. We were all very pleased with her playing “Be OK” and then she got us all dancing around to a raucous, punk rock version of “The Way I Am.” She covered her own song and made it even more awesome than it was…if that’s possible.

She had the crowd laughing and singing all night and we all hung on to every word of her little anecdotes, not wanting her witty badinage to end. But I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to her after the show. She's an absolute sweetheart. Her tour may have come to an end, but she does have four dates in Australia later this month. In the meantime, while you’re waiting for her to come back around to your city, be sure to download her current single, “Parachute.”

The Magic of TayTay

So, if you haven’t heard by now, Taylor Swift sings about the people in her life, and her exes in particular. Yes, some are famous. Yes, she doesn’t hold back. And yes, she’s done it in the past and she’ll continue to do so in the future. We can speculate all we which song is about what guy, but that would just overshadow the album itself, wouldn’t it? So let’s just put that aside and focus on Taylor’s music and impeccable songwriting.

At 16, Taylor broke ground with her sweet and mellow hit song, “Tim McGraw.” That’s when I first took notice of her. As a country artist, she definitely had what it took to maintain staying power. I knew she’d be going places, but I never imagined how huge she would become until I heard 2008’s “Love Story.” When a teenage girl can write a song that even my sixteen-year-old nephew (who is considered, by all definitions, a “jock”) likes to belt out, then obviously Taylor knows she’s struck a golden chord. Now nearly 21, Taylor continues to mature and grow into her role as prolific songwriter with the release of her third disc, “Speak Now,” an album that speaks volumes about heartache and regret. And Taylor, we’re listening.

“Mine” is the first single and the song that kicks off the album. A warm and lighthearted love song, it reached number 3 on Billboard Hot 100, making Swift the second female artist in the history (along with Mariah Carey) to debut multiple tracks in the top five during a calendar year – not an easy feat.

“Back to December” reminds us that we all have regrets, even Taylor. She’s usually the one who’s scorned, but in this number, she’s the one who made a mistake, and now wants to assuage the situation. We see a different side of Taylor in the title track “Speak Now,” in which she breaks up a wedding, claiming the guy deserves better than the girl he’s about to marry. The song contains one of her secret messages in her liner notes stating, “You always regret what you don’t say.”

As for “Mean,” this song is country through and through, complete with the twang of a banjo and the use of hand clapping as percussion, while “The Story of Us” leaves no metaphor left unturned as she describes the demise of a once perfect relationship.

“Innocent,” as we all know from Taylor’s VMA performance, is the “Kanye” song. Cleverly, her secret message in the liner notes for this song is: ‘Life is full of little interruptions.’ Regardless of the subject matter, it’s still a really affecting song. Making mistakes and having regrets seems to be a common theme on the album.
The claws come out on “Better Than Revenge,” which is a lot of fun lyrically with Taylor singing “…she’s an actress, but she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress…She thinks I’m psycho ‘cause I like to rhyme her name with things…no amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity.”

“Last Kiss” is heartbreaking ballad that focuses on the little details of a broken relationship, as opposed to the big milestones. It paints a vivid picture we can all relate to. At one point or another, we’ve all been crying on the floor, lamenting on what was and could have been.

There is not one ancillary song on the album and in spite of some of the more serious tracks, it’s clear that she knows how to have some fun. The album really does read as a diary put to music, which is excellent. So many great songs are based on personal, real-life experiences. The important thing to remember is to include your listeners by making it something they can relate to and avoid making it too self-indulgent. By not specifically naming names, Taylor pulls this task off very well. Having been a fan from the beginning, I’m glad to see she’s only getting better and better. And despite being in my late 20’s, I too find myself sometimes grabbing a hairbrush and singing along to Taylor. It can’t be helped. And I know I’m not the only one who’s done it, so no judging. That’s just my point. She reaches a wide variety of people and has a diverse audience, which bodes very well for the future of this talented young lady.