"Am I talking too much? Too loose?" Ingrid Michaelson blithely asked near the middle of her set at the Somerville Theatre. Michaelson, accompanied by a four-person band, must have guessed that her manic-depressive mixture of heavy love ballads interspersed with a full dose of between-song chatter could make you wonder exactly that.
The New York native's pop-indie rock-folk sound and gargantuan personality have steadily garnered her a loyal following, landing her a spot playing at Bonaroo this summer. Though Michaelson is undoubtedly talented, with a full voice and serious range that peaked late in the show with "All Love," it's not clear what she has to say.
No question that she enjoys entertaining. From the moment she stepped on stage, she charmed the crowd with playful banter, dubbing half of them "sexy leprechauns" and the other half "gentle fingers," while slipping in a few vaginocentric quips. Then she slipped into the weighty "Soldier" which, mid-way through, morphed into her take on Lady Gaga's "Poker Face."
Live, her songs sound as pristine as they do on her album, Everybody (Cabin 24). She filled them with uwavering vibrancy, resuscitating several oft-heard covers, from "Baby Got Back" to an impromptu, operatic rendition of "Toxic" on ukulele. That vibrancy also carried her through the shaky and tonally repetitive portions of her performance and glossed over the average, but spirited, band that filled out her sound.
But all the talk ("My clothes are really tight. I'm packed in here like the Pillsbury Dough Boy"), though often humorous, got to be a bit much. The Vaudevillian demeanor eventually undercut the emotional effects she delivers so well on the CD.
The music itself was pleasant, feel-good, if conventional. The band danced in unison. The crowd clapped and sang along. But Michaelson could do more with her natural songwriting and vocal gifts. Her reliance on quirky covers and love ballads obscured a kernel of originality at the core of her show. Occasionally, her songs express a notion of being a freak, which is part of what makes her interesting.
Because, Michaelson is a freak. Talking, she makes bizarre and delightful connections. Singing, she exercises a god-like control over her clear and dynamic voice. On stage, she sizzles with energy. But she could put more of that freakishness into her songs instead of her banter.