Pillbox

Michaelson warms up crowd

The crowd enjoys the performance and mimics Michaelson’s hand gesture. 

 (credit: Courtesy of Luther B. Young III) The crowd enjoys the performance and mimics Michaelson’s hand gesture. (credit: Courtesy of Luther B. Young III) Michaelson appreciates her supportive band mates. (credit: Courtesy of Luther B. Young III) Michaelson appreciates her supportive band mates. (credit: Courtesy of Luther B. Young III)

The floor of Mr. Small’s Funhouse was a sea of screaming 20-year-old women — and no, the Backstreet Boys were not reuniting onstage. Ingrid Michaelson (the singer-songwriter best known for her song “Keep Breathing” from the Grey’s Anatomy season three finale) was performing the last show of her two-month-long U.S. tour in Pittsburgh.

Besides working the hospital-TV-drama circuit (Michaelson’s songs have provided the background music to the Fox Network’s House and ABC’s Scrubs in addition to Grey’s Anatomy) her melodies were also used to sell Old Navy knitwear — “If you are chilly, here, take my sweater” — last winter.

Onstage, Michaelson’s signature “librarian rocker” look — pin-straight hair parted down the middle, pulled back with a headband, and thick, rimmed eyeglasses — matched her geeky yet endearing personality. In between songs, Michaelson talked to her audience like old friends, which, for many who have followed her career from MySpace prodigy to international phenomena, was not a stretch. In the middle of the set, alone on stage with her guitar, Ingrid confessed that she was nervous, as she was about to try out a song she had written just a few days prior. After a soulful two and a half minutes singing about a new love who appreciated everything about her, imperfections and all, Michaelson turned to her fans for advice as to what the title should be. A lyric within the song’s hook — disaster — was shouted by a fan in the front, and Michaelson giggled with appreciation: “I like that!”

Michaelson’s simple yet honest lyrics have clearly resonated with a large fan base, one that is so hooked on her songs that she has not yet had to sign on to a major record label. Instead, Michaelson distributes her albums through the self-owned, independent Cabin 24 records. In a time when most artists we hear on the radio are attached to music companies through “360” deals, in which the singer’s label takes a percentage of any promotional work the artist pursues (for example, Rihanna is a spokesperson for CoverGirl cosmetics), Michaelson’s dedication to her music remains as pure and as fresh as the songs themselves.

The one and a half hour set on Thursday night was a perfect example of an artist who does not take these fans for granted. From getting the audience to sing harmonies to performing choreographed hand motions — a crowd pleaser: “spirit fingers” — Michaelson was respectful and thankful for her fans’ support. She was also incredibly appreciative of her fellow band mates, thanking them several times during the set. The atmosphere onstage was like kids at a playground. At one point Michaelson shouted “remix!” and like musical chairs, each band member assumed a new role onstage, with Ingrid playing drums. The song continued for another 30 minutes before the band was back in order.

Leaving the venue, fans were confronted with Pittsburgh’s chilly weather, but certainly went home with that childish, warm, fuzzy feeling that Michaelson’s personality and songs evoke. That, or maybe some were bundled up tight, wearing last season’s Fair Isle Old Navy sweater.