I’m not sure what I was expecting for this Intimate Evening; I’m not sure the people attending Vancouver’s Venue on Friday, March 22 did either (somebody early on bemoaned no one was dancing before they shoved their way to the front). The place was certainly buzzing and looked pretty full (official capacity 350) when 2 guys emerged at just before 8 pm to begin fiddling with ‘something’ inside an open, smallish suitcase. I was assuming it was a computer or a turntable of sorts because they took turns listening to headphones and both intently peered into the suitcase. They don’t look at the audience, they don’t say anything to the audience, it all seems like a ‘first day at work’ situation where one employee shows the newly recruited employee around and how equipment works and that sort of thing. Meanwhile, music from bygone ages comes through the speakers – there may or may not be a correlation with what the two guys were doing. We heard harmonica sounds akin to spaghetti westerns suffused with Hammond organ, Disney-esque (like in the animated ‘50s classics) female voiced ooohs, to neutral electronica, French chansons…if this is supposed to be part of the show, I was utterly bored before 15 minutes had passed and yet it wasn’t over!
Diverse suitcases and crates that had comprised the downstage area began to be removed. One of the two guys picked up a stuffed duck-in-flight and mimed flying it off-stage. By 8:30 pm whatever they were doing was done and the show was ready to begin. A few announcements about no filming as some of the material we were to hear was new and not ready to be released to the world via the interwebs (didn’t stop people from filming on their iPhones, I just hope they honoured the request to not post their videos). New stuff was brought on stage (the obligatory piano among them), the DJ station gets dismantled. At this point the Venue is pretty full – well, it’s not like the ‘late-comers’ missed anything. Right, 20 to 9, Mika (for the record, it’s pronounced “mee-kah”), or as I like to call him, the tall one (I’m 157 cm on my passport, he’s 191), comes on stage to sit down at the piano to play “Grace Kelly”. The audience sings the chorus enthusiastically with him*. To like Mika, you’ve got to like his falsetto – it is intrinsic to him, and even when it’s just him and his piano, he hits every one of those lovely high notes.
For the next song, his two supporting players (the 2 dudes with the headphones and the uncompromising focus on the suitcase!) arrive and they’ve had a costume change (there is only so long one can hang around wearing wool cardigans). One takes a spot house left (stage right) and for the purposes of this review will be known as Blue Jacket Guy, while the other settles in on the opposite side, and will be Purple Jacket Guy (they aren’t introduced by name). The second song is “Toy Boy”. Blue guy plays the necessary clarinet and Purple guy plays organ. This song works very well in this intimate setting. Next is “Lollipop” for which the supporting instruments don’t change initially but the musicians eventually do some drumming. Crowd goes “yay” – happy singing along ensues. “Blue Eyes” is next for which Blue plays bass guitar and drum and sings backing vocals, while Purple is on keyboards. I really liked the ‘what’s the matter, matter’ parts in this version.
“Billy Brown” – a light-hearted sounding song, but not the happiest of stories. Purple tries to replace the horn section with his saxophone. “Popular” is great in this atmosphere – you really get more of a sense of the lyrics. Blue is on tambourine and drum, Purple is playing keyboards. Audience is taught the “whoa” parts – if you know the song, you know what I’m talking about. Non-verbal participation is never easy to explain, is it?
After the song, amidst the cheers and whistles, some guy hollers “take your clothes off”. The audience seems to agree but Mika laughing says he didn’t want to peak too soon. He does tease off his green velvet jacket and enquires after the name of the person who requested the strip. The next song was dedicated to him: it was “Love You When I’m Drunk”. Blue is on bass guitar and Purple is on keyboards. Lots of foot stamping and clapping for this one from the audience who also get to sing a couple of repeats of the chorus before Mika and his support launch back into the song to finish it. What I’ve noticed is that the three of them are very tight, they pay VERY close attention to what else is going on on-stage and do not miss a beat.
Afterwards he says something about the music we heard before he came on and called it “the old man from Futurama’s mix-tape”. Well, I’m glad we got that sorted. That first half hour was one “wtf” after another. “Only Lonely Man” was a treat. Mika says he hadn’t done it since he recorded it for his demo in a friend’s garage in Chiswick. I had to explain to the drunk buffoons behind me who misheard it all how to say it and where it was. It was piano chords and percussion-based and had a very peppy pace to it.
For “Underwater” Mika came upstage to sing at the microphone stand for a bit before jumping back to the piano. I say jump, but with his long legs, it was more like 3 steps. Blue is playing drums and tambourine and Purple is on keyboards. I adore the piano part in the beginning of this song.
The audience gets a chance to find out the genesis of the next song. The idea behind the rhythm of it was a tap shuffle which he demonstrates with left hand and right hand excerpts. When Mika was a child, he and his family lived in Paris for a number of years. His sister was taking ballet, so he got into tap. The song was “Stuck in the Middle” and at one point Blue and Purple flanked Mika and it became one big “1 piano, 6 hands” affair. It looked and sounded like a lot of fun! Mika got to use his French for “Elle Me Dit” which came right afterwards. Purple is on glockenspiel for this and Blue is on drum / tambourine. Clapping and stomping from the audience, including the staccato eights (?) underneath parts of the chorus.
Next was “Hia Leah” which is unrecorded – very mellow: lots of ooohs and finger snapping. Easy bass line and a little drum from Purple. Really chill. Thanks to the peeps on mikafanclub.com for the name who were ALL over this already!
“Origin of Love” – the funkiness I like about this song was maintained in this setting; it was just stripped of the techno bits and it was kinda wow like this. Blue played glockenspiel and bass for it while Purple was on keyboard. “Big Girl” was a song the audience was fully behind. For the first time this evening there I saw ‘happy crowd jumping’ for the chorus. Mika was on the piano only for the first verse and chorus, then Purple came and they played double-handed for a bit leaving Mika free to spend some time centre stage. Much crowd appreciation.
Before starting the next song, Mika played a little “good DJ / bad DJ” – Hmmm, I think the house DJ might double as the lighting guy? The stage was lit by at least 50 (could have been 80 for all I know) individually suspended bulbs at various heights which not only offered the necessary lighting, but also lent atmosphere to the show. Mika pointed – lights either went out or on. It was fun. I admit it, I giggled. The fun continued with “Century Man”. Blue was on bass, Purple played ‘drum’ (he played drumsticks against Mika’s piano for most of the song – I hope they didn’t scratch it).
It was nice to hear “Celebrate” with a piano and vocal focus. Blue and Purple helped too, the former played bass and the latter played keyboards. Technically, at this point Mika had run out of time but there was one more to go: “Love Today”, in full falsetto glory. Claps to the “lah dee das” started it off and Blue and Purple doubled up the drum parts. It sounded like the big finish it was. So good.
Mika and his mates left the stage at 9:50 pm and the audience had them back within minutes. The encore was “Over My Shoulder” and it was gorgeous and perfect because it is just Mika and the piano and Blue and Purple providing back-up harmonies. As the end of the song neared, the lightbulbs slowly began to dim. What would have made it a lot better was if the people on the back third of the dance floor had had the decency to shut the f*** up instead of having conversations at levels you would normally if the music was loud. It wasn’t. You were. I know it’s the end of the show, but sod off. Staff were even shining their torches at the ‘offenders’, to no avail. When Mika and his peeps left it was just before 10. The house music came on and, for the first minute or so, the audience was having none of it. The cheers and whistles continued, sadly, so did the house music. The techies were also beginning tear-down; it was clear we were done. Le sigh.
I can’t remember when Mika confesses to having being incredibly nervous about this show. I’d never been to one of his shows before, so I have no basis for comparison. He’s a very good pianist and he writes good songs – they have energy, they have humour, they have sincerity, they have questions, they tell stories, they are interesting rhythmically and melodically, and vocally. Perhaps that’s where the nerves come from: this is very much a vocal showcase, his job is to emote, show his range, and entertain. So much talent and he’s not even 30! A job done well, I’d say.
On the surface, this may have seemed a scaled-down show. As Mika explained, it’s how he writes. Even the big brash sounding songs started with him on the piano just trying stuff out. The audience had the rare opportunity to hear the equivalent of a song’s ‘baby photos’.
But Vancouver, oh Vancouver: when you like a performer, you are wonderful, so supportive, overwhelming. When you’re ambivalent at most, you are rude beyond belief. $20 at the door isn’t ‘affordable’, it invites the ‘why not, it’s only a twenty / seemed like a good idea at the time’ set who truly don’t care that there are real human beings not even 30’ in front of them who take that kind of behaviour in stride, but it ruins it for the rest of us; you know, the people who knew who the guy on the stage was. Next time, do all live music fans a favour: keep your money and keep walking.
* for this show, the term ‘audience’ only refers to people from the stage until about the middle of the dance floor. Ditto for those on the mezzanine. Everyone else probably should’ve stayed home.
Love You When I’m Drunk
Only Lonely Man
Stuck in the Middle
Elle Me Dit / Emily
Origin of Love
Over My Shoulder