Ingrid Michaelson strums way into Milwaukee’s heart

Ingrid Michaelson brought her ukulele-infused indie pop to the Turner Hall Ballroom last Friday night. Photo via Facebook.

With hit songs like “Be OK,” “You and I” and “The Chain,” indie-pop artist Ingrid Michaelson has topped music charts across the globe with her signature ukulele-infused aesthetic. This past Friday night, Michaelson brought her charm and eclectic array of string instruments to the Turner Hall Ballroom for the fifth stop on her fall acoustic tour.

The show began with a promising opening performance by Nashville-based band Sugar & The High Lows, whose modern, bluesy sound provided a different yet appropriate partner for Michaelson’s light harmonies.

After playing several songs from its self-titled debut album, the band played two Christmas songs. As strange as Christmas in October may seem, the band spent its summer producing a Christmas album, so as it plugged in its small light-up Christmas tree, it seemed only fitting to showcase one or two of its snow-themed jingles.

Ingrid Michaelson took to the stage shortly after, beginning with the empowering “This is War” from her latest release, “Human Again.” As expected, her first few songs were upbeat and catchy.

The true unexpected entertainment, however, came in Michaelson’s casual, dry sense of humor, a necessity to the success of her live performances and an aspect of her personality that doesn’t always come through in her songs of love and heartbreak.

When she first got on stage, Michaelson remarked that she and the band were nervous. It wasn’t because of new arrangements or challenging harmonies, but because of the Turner Hall Ballroom’s awkwardly slanted stage and its tendency to make dancing and ukulele playing somewhat difficult.

She continued by explaining her inspiration for the song “Blood Brothers,” an entertaining tale of spilled Starbucks, puffy coats and awkward encounters on the New York subway system. As Michaelson continued with her quirky anecdotes between songs, she was able to provide a base for their origin and entertainment for the audience.

While Michaelson performed slower, softer songs like “The Way I Am” and “Ghost” alone, Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup from Sugar & The High Lows often joined Michaelson on stage to assist in providing both energy and harmony to the fast-tempo crowd-pleasers. Dabbs and Stroup received a not-so-warm Milwaukee welcome when 260 of their CDs were stolen from the front step of the venue earlier in the evening. Thankfully, the two were able to overlook the night’s frustrating start and jokingly began referring to their remaining 10 CDs as “limited edition.”

Michaelson explained that the purpose of the acoustic tour was to experiment with a somewhat different sound. The simple, stripped-down versions of her songs involved fewer instruments and electronics and more creativity on the part of the band. Several times during the performance Michaelson stopped to add a new harmony or verse or to start the song completely over.

Watching any other performer do this could have been unfortunate and maybe even a little sad. Instead, Michaelson, laughing off the small trip-ups and failed experiments, made the audience feel like part of a relaxed, creative process and made the concert feel more like a conversation than a performance.

Wrapping up the show with the crowd-pleasing “You and I,” Michaelson quite literally almost brought the house down during the song’s rhythmic stomp-stomp-clap refrain. While many artists might panic at the thought of a shaking venue, Michaelson embraced the crowd’s excitement, setting down her ukulele to move around the stage and join the fun. The show’s energetic end was the perfect conclusion to a set filled with exciting new songs and remixed classics.

The fall acoustic tour signals a time of creativity and continued success for Ingrid Michaelson and her band. As she continues with shows around the country for the next three months, it is certain that she will provide laughs, excitement and an overall good time for long-time fans and ukulele enthusiasts everywhere.