Last Night: The Hotel Cafe Tour At House Of Blues

The Hotel Cafe Tour House Of Blues October 16, 2008

Better Than: Staying at home, watching Grey’s and washing my hair, both of which I love and one of which is soundtracked by several of the Hotel Café girls' songs--but I’ll leave it up to you to guess which.

Ingrid Michaelson, the way she is. (Courtney Clenney)

Maybe you already know that the House of Blues is like an opera house with its exclusive balcony, vaulted ceilings, man-eating-flower wallpaper and theater curtains.

Good for you, but, before last night's Hotel Cafe show at the venue, I was a HOB virgin.

And, at least in terms of presentation, this was a weird show. Instead of having each artist come out, perform a set and move out of the way as the night progresses from unknown to headliner, this show was more like a showcase--each of the five artists on the bill performed two short sets throughout the evening as the ladies of the tour (Laura Jansen, Meiko, Erin McCarley, Priscilla Ahn and Ingrid Michaelson) shuffled on and off the stage to make way for one another's performances.

Opening the show was Jansen--but I walked in late the first time she played and completely missed her after the intermission, too, though. Damn you HOB for being non-smoking. No idea how she was.

But I did see the rest of the performers--including Meiko, whose set I was fairly excited about beforehand. Unfortunately, her three-song opening set wasn’t really working; she opened with an acoustic guitar song and it

At this point in the show, it didn’t seem the crowd was really feeling her vibe. But, hey, it was early. By her second set, maybe the crowd had had a few, or maybe I had two, things were much better. The acoustic performance of her folksie iTunes hit “How Lucky We Are,” made me sing—out loud, actually. Her staccato vocals and soothing musical qualities, coupled with her shifty feet and funny lip movements, made for an endearing set.

Erin McCarley was up after Meiko the first time around. And, get this, apparently McCarley is from Garland! Her fam was in the audience, too--which could have been why this lady seemed to be the first to inspire the crowd out of it’s coma. I wasn’t too impressed with her tunes before the show, but I will say that, live, this gal knows how to get a crowd going--or as going as her slow and melodic songs could get them. I think I've been converted into a fan, too: Before too long, I was tapping my toes and swaying along…so were others, I promise! She had some twangy-ness in her sound and it was pretty awesome. Bonus: Her guitar strap had a ton of feathers on the back--I’m talking like Native American headdress here.

But Priscilla Ahn and her simultaneous guitar playing and harmonica blowing were a highlight of the evening for me (even though I'd come to this show for Michaelson--more on her later, though). Oh, and this girl is funny. Like LOL funny. Come to think of it the whole set kind of felt like a comedy musical show: She played a song about boobs, with a kazoo. It’s worth hearing. Later, Ahn toned things down a bit, getting into some swirly, pretty music, but, whether the song is a slow ballad or a satire, Ahn has the fullest and purest voice I’ve heard in a while. Definitely a fan.

Last, but not least in the slightest, Ingrid Michaelson came out, and, in true form, was wearing a funky hat and glasses, joking about how everyone else might be skinny but she was the one with the boobs. A lot of boob talk going on last night.

A lot of chatter, too. After an audience member shouted at her to play one of her own songs, Michaelson joked, “I wrote ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ you didn’t know that?” Then she belted out a ukulele acoustic cover of the song that made me believe she could fly over the damn rainbow.

Michaelson, like a couple others at last night’s show has the ability to make the audience believe they can see straight through to the artist’s soul. Also, she started her hit “The Way I Am,” by doing a rendition of “Ice, Ice Baby,” and then going into the theme song for Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Somehow she brought it back to “The Way I Am,” (props to the band on that one, I guess).

Michaelson also proved to be as comedic as she is musically talented. She dubbed the Hotel Café tour this year as “The Hotel Vagina Tour.”

[Editor's Note: In case, yknow, just by reading this review, you couldn't tell...]

Overall, the only reason guys were needed last night was for text messaging the lyrics of the songs to…they love that, I think. --Courtney Clenney

Critics Notebook: Personal Bias: I dig chick music (I’m pulling the ‘I can say this cuz I are one’ card).

Random Note: The mic-changer-outer-guy (we’ll just call him Jason because I could never quite figure out what his last name was) who also doubled as part of the band was really pretty lame with his clown-like antics while changing out mics and tech stuff in between performances. The circus music was not necessary. Plus, he had on a Motörhead shirt. How much do you think he was digging being on the “Hotel Vagina Tour?”

By The Way: I was pretty pissed there were only a handful of tables and chairs at the venue.C’mon, HOB! These gals are a kind of sit-and-ponder type show, not a stand up and head bang thing…How bout some more seats? My toes hurt.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman