Ingrid Michaelson has gone from a flash in the pan to the pan that keeps on sizzling. She started out as a precocious young talent with her first release in 2005 Slow the Rain and saw her stock rise with each subsequent album. Her 2007 album Girls and Boys was #1 on Billboard’s "Heatseekers" chart. She became the first unsigned artist ever to be listed on VH1’s You Oughta Know TV series, one of the station’s most high-profile shows. In 2008, her album Be OK was 35 on the "Billboard 200" and #2 on Billboard’s "Independent Albums," to her latest album Everybody reaching #18 on the "Billboard 200" and thus making her a bona fide indie star.
(Right: Ingrid Michaelson's Website Photo) Ingrid Michaelson IS what’s hot today. She is touring on a 46 date U.S. tour in support of Everybody, an album that in addition to the Top 200 also reached #1 on the iTunes charts and #5 on Billboard’s internet sales charts. She is then off to Europe to follow the U.S. tour.
Adding to the mix and success of this tour is an odd commodity from top level music stars. An opening act that is equal to if not in some cases better than the headliner. That is confidence by Michalson’s part and a bit underestimating the reception singer-songwriter Greg Holden, who is opening for the majority of the 46 dates, would receive. I tend to believe it is the former having seen Ingrid and spoken with her (my candid and heartfelt interview with her to post here shortly).
Michaelson on tour versus her albums is in a way like Phish on tour versus their albums. On an album what you cannot capture is her confidence on stage, her lovely smile and her wry wit and playfulness with the crowd that comes off sincere as much as anything else.
(Left: Photo by Rebecca Sullivan @ Center Stage – Atlanta, GA)
As for Greg Holden he has been working in this country legally, now having secured a very expensive work visa for some of his life’s possessions and a chunk of his wallet. Having been here in the U.S. as an “official sanctioned worker” for only a few months, Holden has been on whirlwind, leading off on tour for Ingrid Michaelson and her band and getting to see the vast spaces of America mostly through the windowpane of a bus and the stops at some of our finest music halls.
Greg Holden is a British born artist from the township of Lancashire comparable to a suburb of Manchester. He is now a NYC living musician who has become something of phenom on the tour. Fans in every town seem to gravitate to this curious musician whose vocals are a sweet mix of Nick Drake meeting Damien Rice and who lyrics harken of Jeff Buckley or Ray Lamontagne demeanor.
Holden, to this point was probably most well known for his YouTube hype The Living Room Series that has garnered close to a million views and had three of his videos on the YouTube front page. There is now The Not, My Living Room series, but if you really want to keep in touch with what he is up to, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter are probably your best bet these days. Holden has been pleasant find to anyone who has seen him live, as newspapers all over have been reporting. He also is touring in support of a new EP called Sing for the City.
Since the tour’s beginning in August and through its end November 5 the pair thus far have managed to sell out EVERY show along the way with upcoming dates often sold out well in advance.
The tour has rambled through and will continue to ramble through the hippest and most prestigious list of venues, each with its own unique tale, from sea to shining sea. Some of the notable stops have and will include: Webster’s Hall – NYC (America’s first nightclub, opening in 1886), 930 Club – Washington, DC, Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC, The Parish @ House of Blues – New Orleans, LA, The Troubadour – Los Angeles, California, The Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA and on and on.
On September 22, 2009, after days of rain, thunderstorms and flooding the kind that the Southeast and particularly Atlanta had not seen in over 100 years there was a reprieve for a day. It was on this day that myself and photographer Neda Abghari got to see one of these concerts for ourselves.
Ingrid Michaelson who sings and plays ukulele, piano, and guitar is backed by an exceptionally talented band, all of whom have music careers beyond backing Ingrid. The band includes Allie Moss on guitar and vocals, Elliot Jacobson on drums, Chris Kuffner on bass, and Bess Rogers on guitar and vocals. The combination is much fuller and louder than one would expect listening to any of her CDs. To me this was an unexpected, but welcomed curveball, as this was my first time seeing Ingrid live.
We were at Atlanta’s Center Stage Loft, one of my favorite places to see a band. I say this, because the Center Stage loft has great acoustics and the fact it tends to remain mostly cool despite the crowds, this night however seemed to be the exception as the crowd was warm, crowded, and very full.
The show led off with Greg Holden who crooned his way through a seven song set that left the crowd wanting. I believe that is the first rule of show business or entertainment, leave the crowd wanting? Whatever the case, Holden started by playing The Chase the first song on his full LP A Word in Edgeways. He continued with the first song on his new EP, Sing for the City, with a song called "She's got Something," which happened to drop on the exact day we saw them play. It sells on Amazon for fewer than three dollars or two quid and would be probably the best three bucks you’ve spent in a while, because it is that good. He continued with another track off of the EP called Thinking of You.
He then busted out a bit of playfulness by playing "Walking on Sunshine" by 80s pop band Katrina and the Waves. Holden at this point got the crowd involved and was exerting all his charm and boyish good looks that had the ladies of Atlanta in a trance. When he joked that Atlanta was so good he might just stay one young woman shouted “You can stay at my place!” Another funny glimpse of the crowd taking affectionately to this UK newcomer is when I caught the woman next to me texting ever so discreetly, as her boyfriend stood behind her enjoying the show, “British Boys are Winners!” In fact, most of the crowd, men and women, were won over by the set’s end a rare feat for opening acts that usually get thrown out like chum for the sharks in hopes of making the main act look and sound that much better.
Holden managed to settle down the tone just for a moment and play the amazingly beautiful and lyrically strong “Art of Falling” found on the aforementioned A Word in Edgeways. He closed his set with “Bar on A”, which Bess Rogers and Allie Moss of Ingrid’s band joined him to sing. The song is something of a cult hit on his tour as it is not on any album and quite playful. It is a fun poke at what his expectations of coming to America and touring would be like, another song in which the crowd got involved and even Ingrid popped on stage to join in the backup vocals.
There was about a 30 minute break or so where everyone got to settle down, head to the “Merch” table and meet this British “Lad” Greg Holden and buy cds and trendy t-shirts that read “Who’s Greg Holden”. By the time I made it to the table all of the large and extra large shirts in any of the colors were sold out. I would say Atlanta and Greg Holden definitely have a kinship and judging by his Facebook page and other notes on the net, this kinship extends to pretty much every city and venue he joins Ingrid and crew on. Welcome to America Greg Holden.
The night started again as the crowd, a slight bit past ancy, welcomed Ingrid Michaelson and crew to the stage. She did not disappoint this crowd, most all of whom came to see her. It seemed at first like they knew her as much for her Grey’s Anatomy and Old Navy songs as they did her albums, but in speaking to them directly I found out I was wrong. Her following is savvy, smart, and filled with men and women something that might surprise the more misogynistic writers and naysayers who likely have never seen her live and know about as much about her as my aforementioned TV commercials and shows. As a young woman named Whitney told me, she heard of Ingrid a little over two years ago in Athens, GA at the now defunct Georgia Theatre (R.I.P.) as Ingrid opened for Matt Nathanson. For Whitney like many others, one live viewing of Ingrid and her flavorful wit and humor combined with crowd interaction and a heart on the sleeve type performance and she was sold.
Regardless of the level of savant, every man and woman at the show was hyped from the opening act and the excitement of seeing Ingrid Michaelson live. As this was my first time seeing, I too had a great deal of intrigue. Ingrid started the show by playing the intro track "Solider" on her new album Everybody. From there came 17 more songs that spanned her albums Everybody, Be OK, Girls and Boys, and few covers thrown in for good measure. Some of the songs played this night included an amazing rendition early in the set of her songs "Be OK" and "You and I" from Be OK and "The Hat" from Girls and Boys.
Some of the evening's additional highlights included, her song used by Old Navy and Grey’s Anatomy "The Way I Am" a tune that had the crowd singing along to in unison. What impressed me about Ms. Michaelson is the fact that she has enough music in her arsenal not to have to rely on songs used by commercials or popular TV shows to make a crowd happy. "The Way I Am" from all accounts was the only song she sang that had TV ties and for that I applaud her. Ingrid Michaelson played many tracks from her self described, "big girl record," the newly released Everyday and they came off sounding crisp and the kind of thing a guy like me could listen to, get and still appreciate my Saturday afternoon SEC College Football.
Not to be out done by Mr. Holden and his cover tune, Ingrid also covered a playful take on "Ice, Ice, Baby" and "The Fresh Prince of Belair." She then delved into more serious covers of "I Can’t Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley that appears on her album Be OK. She followed that up with a telling and heartfelt version of "Creep" by Radiohead that showed her true colors of this being more than just an act, but someone who has been there and knows of love, loss, regret, and joy. This is the kind of performance that her fans have come to love.
If I was just another Joe listening to this and unaware of her history and music I would say “Meh, this junk is contrived,” but as you will see in the interview I did with her (hopefully published here at Blogcritics in the next week along with a separate interview done with Greg Holden) that she is anything but contrived when it comes to matters of the heart.
Her hauntingly rendition of her new song "Maybe," a very U2, Achtung Baby like track in its lyrical intensity, is a good indicator of where Michaelson’s music is at and possibly where it is going. Everybody is by far a more mature, darker, and more heart fogged album than any of its predecessors.
In full, the show with the opening act Greg Holden and the incomparable ukulele and piano playing main act Ingrid Michaelson with fun interactive showmanship was more than enough to please this crowd. The fact that Michaelson, along with her talented, backing band, was able to mesh heartfelt, slower moments that showed off the array of her body of work over the last four years, made for a great night. As concert patron Claire remarked when asked why she came to the show and what her favorite song was, “Because Ingrid rocks my world. Oh I don’t know on a favorite song, because they are ALL amazing, I am just happy to be here.”
That for me and I think for many who attended the show in Atlanta or anywhere else on the tour that is still going strong sums up the experience.
Be sure to check Ingrid’s personal website, her MySpace page and Facebook for tour dates, song updates and notes from her. Ingrid and her band are great at keeping in touch with fans the same way they do on tour, something that is a quality that keeps them coming back.
As for newcomer Greg Holden be sure to check out his Facebook something he comments on frequently and interacts with fans almost daily. Also be sure to check out Greg’s LastFM page to hear many of his songs from all of his albums and his MySpace page for song updates and tour updates from him as well. His website has links to all of these and more and is still in development.