IOWA CITY - Ingrid Michaelson brought her ukelele, signature glasses and an impressive set list to a sold out concert at the Englert Theatre on Oct. 8.
Michaelson was in Iowa City as part of her 2012 Acoustic Fall Tour, performing to a devoted audience who enthusiastically sang along to many of her popular hits, including, "Parachute," "Be Ok," and "You and I."
Michaelson introduced each song with anecdotes that at times added humor and a refreshing sense of vulnerability but tended toward an absentminded rants at others. Casually dressed in stripes and boots, Michaelson fidgeted, laughed and adjusted her glasses throughout the set. The only drawback to her chatter were the minutes lost in conversation that could have been used to sing another song. But, the majority of the audience enjoyed her stories, which ranged from snuggling with strangers on the subway in NYC, to how she was going to mockingly write a song ("Mean Girls") about a gaggle of high school girls that bumped into her on the sidewalk and accidentally spilled her tea.
Michaelson displayed an impressive vocal range and played several instruments. Backed by a drummer, a keyboardist and a guitarist/back-up singer, Michaelson clearly enjoyed jamming with what appeared more like friends than band-mates. Encouraging group participation, Michaelson and her band got the audience to stand, clap and sing along.
Yet, without a doubt, her most powerful moments during the concert were the scaled-back songs, in which Michaelson, alone on stage, played the ukelele or the piano and let her voice take center stage.
After saying everyone is destined to endure a painful break-up, Michaelson sang an emotion-filled, "Ghost." Afterwards, she smiled and said, "That was the sad song I wrote when I was happy. And this is the happy song I wrote when I was sad. Yep....all of my friends were getting married all around me. And everybody said, 'Oh we love your song, it's our wedding song.' And I was thinking, well, that's... just awesome... for you."
The crowd was still laughing by the time Michaelson began, "The Way I Am."
Powerful, earthy and smooth, Michaelson's voice didn't disappoint and her live interpretations were even better than her recordings.
Another sweet surprise during the show was Sugar and the Hi Lows, the duo who opened for Michaelson. Armed with nothing but a glittery tambourine and a guitar, the Nashville duo effortlessly intertwined modern music with a vintage vibe.
Trent Dabbs plays a mean guitar and has an equally as impressive, soulful voice. Add in partner Amy Stroup (who sounds like Alison Krauss but has a cool edge like Stevie Nicks) and the two have a truly memorable sound. Their voices were so complimentary, and their vibe was so intertwined, it was like taking a trip straight back to the 1950's.
Dabbs showmanship was infectious, as he got the crowd to clap along to, "Except You and I," while Stroup's shyness added a chillingly sad feel to, "Odds of Being Alone."
"I like this theater. I like it here. I like you guys," said Dabbs halfway through the set.
The duo sang one cover song, "Ho Hey (sweethart)" by the Lumineers which the crowd clearly enjoyed singing along to. They also offered a few Christmas songs from their upcoming holiday album. They even brought along a mini Christmas tree, which they said was an interesting experience in the airport.
"Security took my nail-clippers, but they didn't take my tree," said Stroup.
Describing their sound as "heavy mellow," Dabbs brought down the house with his moving performance of, "I've Got You Covered." And Stroup was most memorable in their new hit, "See It For Yourself."
Like Michaelson, "Sugar and the Hi Lows" have been featured in several TV shows, including "Grey's Anatomy" and "One Tree Hill." Ranging from slow and sad, to fast and groovy, the up-and-comers undoubtedly earned some new fans in Iowa City.
"Sugar and the Hi Lows" joined Ingrid Michaelson onstage for a few songs, most notably during the encore - which kept audience members on their feet. Following the standing ovation, Michaelson was undoubtedly moved.
"When we have an audience like you guys, it makes it so easy. Thank you. I'm so happy, I don't want to leave."