Concert Review: Mika at Union Transfer in Philly

When I found out I was going to a Mika concert, I was wondering how he would transform his flamboyant music videos onto a small stage. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with a concert of cozy vaudeville. The venue, Union Transfer, had the same feel as Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom but smaller. In fact, I prefer this venue with its standing room only and its cathedral ceiling filled with charming chandeliers. Bare bulbs hung above the stage and after a couple of DJs warmed up the crowd with an eclectic mix of favorites from the 50s through the 10s, Mika entered with two other musicians decked out in suspenders and armbands. One played percussion and the other the saxophone while Mika took the Steinway in the center. It was completely different from what I expected from a singer with so much electronic influence on his recordings,  but as the concert went on I realized just how many times horns and piano are highlighted in those same recordings. Mika’s music has a carefree, devil- may- care attitude that reminds me of the simpler songs you can find from the 20s and 30s. At one point he told us how “Stuck in the Middle” was originally named “The Tap Dance Song” because he wanted to be the next Gene Kelly when he was a child. He accompanied himself on the piano and a hard shell leather suitcase was  used as percussion for that particular number.. Earlier in the evening, “Lollipop” was sung acapella by Mika and his two supporting musicians.

I have never seen anyone with the amount of stage presence that Mika has. He was perfectly at home onstage. He wasn’t going over the top,  dancing all around with bells and whistles, but his energy was enough to be shared with every single member of the audience. He was made to be a performer and had complete command of his artistic palette. The pinnacle of the evening was when Mika sang “Underwater” from his new album “Origin of Love.” A single bare bulb that he swung around in a sea of darkness was all this man needed to captivate the audience.  Although I hate when reviewers overuse the word “intimate” (how can a couple hundred people be intimate?), it was the most intimate concert I have ever attended. In an age when flashy lights and autotune seem to dominate, it was refreshing to see real music shine through. Don’t let his catchy hooks fool you; Mika is a true entertainer with tremendous range and ability. I can’t wait for an encore.

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