Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Femininity of Quirky Folk Pop

Self-described “quirky folk pop” artist Ingrid Michaelson stopped by Charlottesville last week on her “Everybody” Tour. Along with the densely packed crowd of Ingrid’s passionate fan base, I fought to secure my spot to not only view, but also experience, this live performance. Quite notable was the strong female stage presence on the verge of overt stage dominance. The band was composed of three women and three men. While the gender ratio was equal, the situation of genders on the stage was not. All three women, with Ingrid on center stage, stood downstage (in front of) from their male band mates. This may have been partly attributable to the instruments and vocal contributions (or lack thereof) of each band member. If the audience had any doubt about the strict gender differences illustrated on stage, they need only watch the musicians quench their thirst. All men drank from bright blue plastic cups while the women had neon pink cups.

Ingrid took lead vocals in all songs while playing either the acoustic guitar or the ukulele. On either side of her, a female band member stood contributing harmonizing vocals and guitar accompaniment (one acoustic, one electric). Upstage, the men played more stationary instruments: one man on drums, one on the keyboards (and several other instruments including tambourine, guitar, and accordion), and the final member playing bass guitar. The male band members made few vocal contributions to the music and did so only in songs which reflected positively on romantic relationships. One notable male vocal contribution was made by Greg Laswell, a fellow folk musician and friend of Ingrid Michaelson. He joined her on stage to sing a duet the two had written together, performing with the accompaniment of Ingrid’s acoustic guitar and sharing one microphone. The couple sang cheek to cheek at points throughout the song, leaving time to discuss the lyrics on stage during the headliner’s memory lapse.
The feminine vocal quality of the Ingrid Michaleson’s music was showcased throughout the show. Her use of female vocal harmonizing was especially notable in songs like “The Chain,” which is a canon performed by the three women of the band. She often sang quietly (especially while seated alone on the stage) and with a breathy voice, especially notable in her cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Other songs highlighted a more playful musicality and stronger, more upbeat vocal qualities. One noteworthy example was “You and I,” a song performed by all the musicians on tour. Each musician sang one line of verse then all sang the chorus together accompanied by Michaelson on the ukulele.

The intimate setting and Ingrid’s style of performance allowed for a great deal of audience interaction. The performers would tell jokes and short stories during interludes. Audience members sang along to every song, especially when requested by the performer. Ingrid Michaelson would instruct the audience which lyrics to sing prior to beginning the song. Several songs include a clapping or stomping beat, which the audience performed along with the band members. One particular instance of audience interaction elicited what I refer to as the “crouching encore.” During a lull between songs, one mother shouted out “Far Away. I have three nine-girls whose favorite song is Far Away but they are getting sleepy and need to go home.” From the stage Ingrid replied, “That’s the encore song, but we’re almost there. Hang in there.” After the last and currently most popular song, “Maybe,” the band members crouched down on the stage, mimicking an exit from the show and noting that the green room was too far away. After several seconds of vigorous clapping and cheering, the band popped back up to resume with the encore set, first making sure the nine-year olds were still there. The show closed with “Far Away” and an original song paying homage to Mexican food while on the road, set to the tune of “Maybe.” Ingrid Michaelson as a live performer showcased her musically and vocally unique songs while displaying a playful and interactive personality.

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