Mika at Varsity Theater, 4/2/13
Photo by Youa Vang
Mika with DJ Moose
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Mika is certainly a singer, but who knew that he was also a magician, because the show he put on at the Varsity on Tuesday night was magic. The British singer is known for his catchy pop songs that cause the listener to dance, so it was through pure talent that he was able to siphon and filter those songs into an acoustic set.
Under a stage lit by single hanging light-bulbs, Mika lured the audience into his enchanting world, captivating and charming everyone at the same time.
Dressed to the nines in a tuxedo, the pop singer took to the Steinway that was set up for him onstage. Delicately tinkling on the keys, he opened with "Grace Kelly," then smiled and said, "Good evening, Minneapolis." "Toy Boy" was a lullaby-like piece that opened with the clarinet and glockenspiel and led into a fun pop piece. There is a recurring theme through all of Mika's songs; they have to be catchy, they have to be fun, and they are about love -- most of the time about love gone wrong, such as his pessimistic love song "Lollipop." Mika loves to talk, and he jokingly shared his thoughts about the stages of love, "First, it's please sleep with me, please get the fuck away from me, please come back to me. Then back to please sleep with me, and we have the cycle again."
Photo by Youa Vang
The crowd took to a hushed awe when Mika came out from behind the piano to dance and perform at the mic. He shared, "Minneapolis, I dressed up tonight. I washed my face. I put wax in my hair. I put on a bowtie just for you." Spotting a similarly dressed fan in the crowd, he continued, "Oh, you look like one of the boys," referring to himself and his backing band. He got the audience laughing doing the sign of the cross before launching into "Popular," a redemptive upbeat piece talking about how he was picked on by a girl that was popular.
Mika was especially impressed and proud of the never-before-played grand piano that was provided for him that evening, claiming that he usually has to perform on a piano that goes out of tune after a few songs. Since he had such an amazingly instrument to work with, he promised to play brilliantly, like he never had before, saying, "That's why I wear a fucking bowtie. I wear it, so the piano wouldn't stand me up. Bitch." Trying to catch what an audience member was saying, he asked, "What did you say? Oh, you're gross. Wash your mouth out with soap," before leading into "Love You When I'm Drunk," a song touching on a failed relationship due to alcohol.
Photo by Youa Vang
With all of the lights turned off except one dangling bulb, Mika grabbed it, set it swinging, and launched into the haunting love song "Underwater." The sold-out crowd at the Varsity was in for a treat when he performed "The Only Lonely One," a song that he had not performed on this tour before.The tune had some "hey, ho"s similar to the Lumineers' famous song, but that's all the similarities they had in common; Mika's is a tale of pining for love that he feels he won't ever be able to find.
When he was six years old, the performer wanted to take ballet lessons, not because he had a love for ballet, but because his sisters were taking them. He begged his parents to get him lessons, but instead of ballet, he took tap instead. Only in tap for six months, he was "kicked out for being a shit dancer," he jokingly shared. To honor those six months, he wrote the "Tap Dancing Song," and pointed out the not-noticeable-until-then tap dancing shoes he was wearing. "Tap Dancing Song" was a fun, buoyant piece that had his backing band joining him and tinkling on the piano at the end.
There was a surprise in store for an audience member when Mika approached a man in the front row and took a picture with him. This was more a diversion, for Mika handed him the mic after dedicating "Origin of Love" to a woman named Audra, asking the man to do the honors leading to the man proposing to Audra. Although she didn't respond into the mic, it was pretty clear that it was a "yes."
Photo by Youa Vang
Much like many songwriters, Mika has been writing for other performers, which he shares is very liberating. He said, "You feel like...I can't think of the name. Dr. Frankenstein? And these songs are monsters. There's a film in production starting next Monday, and I wrote this song for it. It's called 'Century Man,'" which turned out to be a magnetic song about a superhero.
Because he was Minneapolis, Mika couldn't go through his set without talking about Prince, saying, "I could be hopeful; I could be purple," and in his falsetto led into "Happy Ending." A singer that doesn't include an encore must be secure in the fact that they did a good enough job in their set that there is no need for more, thus he ended the evening on a song he wrote and recorded when he was just sixteen, "Over My Shoulder." Not just because he plays the piano, but his mannerisms and charm draw a parallel to American-Canadian singer, Rufus Wainwright. Both performers have a love for opera, and "Over My Shoulder" showed off Mika's expansive range and amazing control. The eerie waltz took over the stage and permeated the venue, much like how the bitter taste of a fine, red wine lingers after it's gone.
Critic's bias: I had heard Mika's music before, but I don't think his full effect isn't experienced until you see his live show.
The crowd: Surprisingly young with a lot of twenty-somethings and a handful of middle-aged fans.
Overheard in the crowd: "This DJ set is awful," referring to the confusing opener that played '50s music. Turns out the two DJs were Mika's backing band.
Random notebook dump: This show sold out in a few hours. Pretty impressive for an artist that doesn't get much, if any, radio airplay.
Love You When I'm Drunk
The Only Lonely One
Tap Dancing Song
Elle Me Dit (Emily)
Origin of Love
Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)
Relax (Take it Easy)
Make You Happy
Over My Shoulder
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