Ingrid Michaelson plays at Union Chapel
“I don’t wanna leave!” Ingrid Michaelson says after her opening songs at London’s beautiful Union Chapel. And if her reception on Thursday night is anything to go by, no one really wants her to.
The New York-based singer-songwriter is touring worldwide to promote her latest album, Human Again. Widely known for her refusal to sign with a major record label, Michaelson’s star has been steadily on the rise since the release of her first album in 2005. Yet she seems truly humbled by the packed chapel, thanking us several times for our attendance.
Michaelson has brought two backing singers with her, and together they play a collection of guitars, bass, keyboard, and Michaelson’s signature ukulele. The intimacy of their small ensemble is a perfect match for the venue, and Michaelson’s evident fondness for canon and passing polyphony has fitting echoes of classical church music.
Live, Michaelson’s voice is richer and more nuanced than it ever sounds in recordings. She almost speaks the lyrics, singing with a vocal shrug, but when needed, she can pack the kind of power you hear in an angry Martha Wainwright.
Her comment that “sometimes cheesy is important in this world” pretty much sums up her entire approach to songwriting. Her lyrics cycle and re-cycle with an almost talismanic intensity: “I just want to be okay, be okay, be okay / I just want to be okay today”. They’ll never break any new ground, but they serve their purpose.
She plays a lot with dynamics and closeness, from the fullness of three voices, bass, guitar and keyboard to soft solo numbers accompanied by the ukulele. They even venture off-mic for one song – a meek mouse-like version of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love. We’re not convinced – it sounds more like what three friends around a campfire would come up with than a well-considered cover – but the audience laps it up. Indeed, they lap up the whole concert with an almost terrifying enthusiasm in the reverberant space.
The concert finishes with an encore of You & I, accompanied by the stomp-stomp-clap refrain of We Will Rock You, and the small venue echoes like a stadium.
Photos: Dwaine Field-Pellew
Listen to Ingrid Michaelson’s You & I here: