all words: Tristan Lejeune, all photos: Jason Dixson
“Grace Kelly,” the first track and biggest hit from singer-songwriter Mika’s 2007 debut studio album, was one of those pop songs that would have been grossly overplayed … if in fact it were possible to get tired of it. Somehow, even on a 15th (or 50th) listen, those bubblegum beats stayed fresh and the ridiculous octave-climbing chorus felt as joyful and spontaneous as a child bounding up stairs. No one seemed to get sick of “Grace Kelly.”
Except, perhaps, for the artist himself. Performing at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Wednesday night, he opened with “Grace Kelly” and gave the distinct impression of getting the song out of the way. “Am I too dirty, am I too flirty?” Mika asked, as ever, but he wasn’t nearly enough of either on this one. The arrangement was uninspired, the delivery lackluster.
Thankfully, these problems were short-lived. It was, as they say, smooth sailing from there. Over the course of the next hour-and-a-half, the Beirut-born, London-based Mika offered the sold-out crowd a wonderful treat: a concert as rich as it was fun, as colorful as it was skilled. Far more creative treatment was given to “Lollipop” and “Underwater;” far more delight was gained from “Emily” and “Blue Eyes.”
“Emily,” in particular, literally brought the crowd to its feet. Mika has always combined level-headed lyrics with mischievously giddy melodies, and while his backup musicians tinkered with bass and drums, he held court from behind a black grand. Switching from English (“Emily, you could be a millionaire, but you’re so full of hot air / Gonna to end up like your father”) to French only raised the attention level. Just in time for the bridge, one big cognate came through: “dance.” So dance they did.
With a pair of talented multi-instrumentalists at his side and a falsetto that sounds like Robbie Williams doing a Freddy Mercury impression in his throat, Mika made the Sixth & I space his own. And what a space! Looking up at the beautiful, vaulted ceiling, our host advised his sound board early on: “We don’t need reverb tonight.”
The festivities started bright and vibrant, but, adjusting to his setting, Mika toned down both the volume and the lights – without sacrificing any energy – in the set’s second half, eventually even coming out from behind the mike and singing unamplified for, he said, the first time since he was a boy. The electric-bulb menorahs soon became significant glows as the “Intimate Evening” tour more than lived up to its name.
A word here on concert etiquette. Current audiences need a refresher on when to cheer and when to SHUT. UP. Hint: When the person everyone paid to see is singing pianissimo, don’t join in. And when he steps away from the microphone entirely, don’t do anything, least of all whisper with your neighbors. Gosh, it’s like some people have never been to a rock concert in a house of worship before …
Minor hiccups aside, Mika’s performance Wednesday was a smash from almost-start to finish. As in his studio recordings, even his saddest ballads somehow make you feel happy. It might start with their titles: “Happy Ending” could be the most tragic song the man has, but oh, it’s good for the heart. His rendition of it in Washington was bracing, sincere and crushing. By the end, no one was not smiling.