Ingrid Michaelson is not a creep. She's not a weirdo.
While her disturbingly convincing cover of Radiohead's "Creep" may suggest otherwise, Michaelson's winning performance Tuesday evening at the Record Bar proved that's she's destined for bigger stages.
She was the largest draw of the five artists featured in the Kansas City edition of this year's Hotel Cafe tour. The concept is named for a Hollywood venue renowned for nurturing a new generation of singer-songwriters.
The capacity audience of about 250 was dominated by young women eager to see Michaelson. The distinctly feminine sensibility of Michaelson's breakthrough songs, most notably "The Way I Am" and "Breakable," clearly strike a resonant chord with her adoring core audience.
The New Yorker's brainy wit and brassy style seems to be informed by cabaret and saloon singers. That throwback feel was especially pronounced on an entrancing reading of "The Chain." Expertly assisted by Meiko and band member Allie Moss -- Michaelson referred to them as "the Vaginas"-- it was the night's most winning performance.
Not everything Michaelson touched was golden. Her tentative duet with Cary Brothers on his "If You Were Here" was disastrous. Such ramshackle failures are arguably part of the concept's impromptu charm.
Brothers, introduced as "the inventor of this tour," gleefully announced that he was combatting an illness with generous doses of Jack Daniels. He allowed that his birthday celebration wouldn't officially begin until midnight, but he was already in wild and wooly form.
"Blue Eyes," Brothers' contribution to the Garden State soundtrack, is characterized by quiet tension. Yet backed by the tour's versatile band, Brothers howled like a madman on several sturdy rockers. Most of Michaelson's fans seemed displeased by his antics.
Dan Wilson, on the other hand, effortlessly won over the tightly-packed room. His quiet authority contrasted starkly with the often chaotic approach of his tour mates. The industry veteran wisely employed Michaelson on his fetching "Sugar" and offered a strong reading of "Easy Silence," a song he cowrote with the Dixie Chicks. Wilson also delighted the audience by parsing the hidden meeting of "Closing Time," his biggest hit with Semisonic. (It's about the birth of his first child.)
Jim Bianco's schtick was less successful. Paying homage to Tom Waits and Screamin' Jay Hawkins can't be easy.
Meiko's bawdy banter was more memorable than her jittery folk-rock. She related her disgust with men's interest in breasts as she introduced a song about the staff at Hooters restaurants.
"My girls are really small, but Ingrid's got a nice rack," Meiko noted. "This is for Cary (Brothers), who likes big boobs. Happy birthday, a**hole."
Meiko's wrath might have been more appropriately directed at the unfortunate choice of venue. The Record Bar has innumerable virtues, but it was all wrong for the Hotel Cafe tour. The show offered almost three hours of continuous music. That's a lot of standing, especially while straining to hear over constant chatter.
Michaelson was just one of the performers who attempted to address the disruptive roar emanating from the back of the venue.
"The quieter you are, the louder I become," she pleaded. "It's magic."
| Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star