A few years ago I saw Ryan Adams for the first time…
When he finally took the stage he went all Ryan Adams, telling jokes, stopping songs in the middle, smoking and drinking, rambling around the stage.
You know, Ryan Adams.
One audience member got tired of his rock star act and yelled out, “Less talk, more rock!” Adams’ predictable response went something like, “Go fuck yourself.”
I, on the other hand, found Adams’ drunken stream-of-consciousness quite entertaining. I was probably biased, of course, because I was a huge fan of his music. And to be fair, he did deliver a bunch of killer tunes to go along with the never ending story about the best bowl of soup he ever ate. But his antics to me didn’t detract from the show, they actually added something.
The same type thing happened on Wednesday night at the Granada in Lawrence, where New York singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson brought her quirky bedroom folk act to a packed house of indie chicks and their boyfriends. She took the stage wearing her usual Lisa Loeb glasses, with a backing band of acoustic guitar, drums, and bass. Michaelson spent most of her time at the piano, but she also busted out the ukulele and guitar on a few numbers.
And though she spent nearly as much time spinning yarns as she did singing, this go around, no hecklers took issue with the cutesy singer’s funny stories and self-deprecating one liners.
At one point Michaelson told a story about how the band bought one of their stage props at a mall in Iowa, a bird cage with candles inside it that sat atop the piano.
“I told the band, we really need a birdcage,” deadpanned Michaelson. “Seriously, what is this?”she asked, holding up the white, decorative cage.
The audience literally would have eaten a sandwich right out of Michaelson’s hands if she gave them the chance.
The set included lots and lots of audience participation, including an impromptu cover of We Are the World that Michaelson stopped mid-verse when the crowd wasn’t hitting the right harmonies. She corrected them, gave them another chance and they nailed it on the next take.
Later in the night a rambling story somehow led to the subject of dead kittens.
“Dying kittens are cute,” said Michaelson convincingly. “That’s horrible to say… they’re actually not cute.” She looked around sheepishly. “This is a horrible segue into this next song.”
Other memorable moments include a minimalist version of The Way I Am, aka the Old Navy sweater song, a sweet version of the mid-tempo and optimistic Blood Brothers, and one of the encores, REM’s Nightswimming, which was performed solo using only a vocal loop station.
Michaelson’s voice is simple, and she employs a straight-forward delivery with little vibrato that at times can come across as a bit reedy. Despite that, she’s able to draw out of it a substantial amount of emotion, complementing her uncomplicated songs and arrangements.
Her strongest moments of the night came when her band dropped out – which they did often – leaving Michaelson alone on stage playing piano and delivering her tunes at her own pace. And the audience seemed to enjoy those quiet moments best as well.
Though to be fair, I think the audience would’ve enjoyed just about anything Michaelson did, it was just so damn cute.