Concert review: Ingrid Michaelson

VIENNA, Va., May 16, 2012 — There are a lot of reasons to enjoy the work of singer/songwriters. The mellow vibe they often create sits well with people who don’t necessarily feel the need to get riled up and simply want to relax. Each tune these talented musicians write can serve as background music for either the major emotional moments or the quieter ones, creating a grand feeling without being over the top

This kind of musical resume describes most of the good to competent singer/songwriters out there, and there are a lot of them. At her best, as she demonstrated during her terrific show at the 9:30 Club Wednesday night, Ingrid Michaelson proved to be all these things and more.

Yet the characteristic that separates the truly good and resounding singer/songwriters from the middle of the pack is honesty. Without honesty, the singer/songwriter can fall into the trap of channeling hollow platitudes and clichés. It’s a trick on the audience, easily convincing them that there’s something profoundly deep lying beneath the artist’s veneer, when in reality it’s all surface and no substance. Genuine artists have to open up and disclose who they really are.  Otherwise it’s just another pose, another shallow act.

Fortunately, honesty is something Ingrid Michaelson seems to have in spades. 

Not only is Michaelson honest, but she’s forthcoming, almost painfully so at times. During her set last Wednesday, it felt as if almost nothing were off limits, as the artist seemed willing to share practically whatever happened to cross her mind.

Whatever the venue, most of Michaelson’s songs are introduced with either a set-up or a lengthy back-story. This gives her songs, in most cases, extra weight, since the audience knows at least part of the thought process that went into writing the song, or the specific emotion Michaelson is experiencing while she’s performing.

This isn’t exactly a novelty in singer/songwriters. But Michaelson is able to effortlessly seize these conventions and make the format her own. 

Too often similar artists in a similar position have a tendency to be dull and self important, losing the audience in the process. Michaelson offsets this notion simply by being a legitimately warm and funny person, which is a great asset as some of her pre-song stories can be fairly lengthy.  The longest and funniest monologue last Wednesday evening was her diatribe describing her recent Macy’s Day Parade excursion and the awkward position she unintentionally brought upon herself.  Her humorous patter is self-deprecating and disarming, which seems to be the best way for an artist to get an audience on her side of the argument.

As entertaining as Michaelson’s in-between-song monologues were last week, her appearance wasn’t marketed as a spoken word event. She actually played some music too. Still, the entire narrative and musical package played a big part in the grand scheme of her set. Everything Michaelson did just made the audience more enamored with her. When she actually got into the sweep of her songs, the audience was already transfixed. As a result, the songs just washed right over the crowd, completing the thought while leaving the audience transfixed and almost dazed.

Michaelson doesn’t simply trigger this effect and use it as an excuse to coast. Instead, she proves more than able to mix up her sets considerably. Her songs range from being melodramatic to hopeful and upbeat, and her ability to effectively incorporate various additional instruments allows her to capitalize on the specific emotions of each song. She’s also able to highlight her lyrical strengths in the process, an added plus.

Ingrid Michaelson captures her audience with her genuine sincerity, and never tries to fool them into thinking she’s something that she’s not. This is what separates her from the average singer/songwriter and will continue to keep people tuning into her in the months and years ahead. 

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.

 


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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