For those of you who don't know Mika, you have probably already heard at least one of his songs. In a good mood, he delivers "fun" music that is very catchy, instantly memorizable, but somehow too generic to have a particular imprint. He's very young, so he probably is still working on a particular style, but right now he fits the mainstream glam rock category quite well, with other acts like Scissor Sisters.
When I moved to Silicon Valley, I stopped attending concerts. Who has the time to keep up with the event schedule, or even to attend a concert at night when there is another catastrophe looming on the next day? So I let my love of music rot in the basement of stress. That is, until I realized I had missed Annie Lennox. Turning 40 makes you think of the many lasts you are going to experience in the future, and I suddenly had the feeling that might have been my Last Chance to see the amazing Diva live.
So, when I discovered that Mika was stopping for the day in San Francisco, I immediately went and bought tickets. I braved the expense, braved FedEx and their absurd delivery policies, and braved my own inertia. I had had fun listening to his music, and the reviews said he was an amazing performer. What's there more to ask?
So I went with my best friend Julie from San Jose. Met her at the venue, the strangely named Warfield. An Art Deco theater on Market street, it's not much of a place to go. Too small for a crowd, with terrible acoustics (at least from my seat, and with this kind of music) I guess the tour organizers thought Mika was not going to attract much of a crowd in a country where he's barely known. (Wrong.)
The crowd was absolutely not what I expected. I was mentally ready for a bunch of shrill and shrieking teenagers with fan accoutrements. Wrong again! Instead we had a strange mix of hippie parents (Dharma's parents from the show "Dharma and Greg", say), leather types (wtf?), suburban folks (the heavyset "I am not overweight I am just a big boy/girl" type), smartly dressed gay couples, and then of course the shrill and shrieking teenagers (some of them in their late forties, when it stops looking borderline cute and starts looking mainstream annoying).
Of course, when we sat down, we had managed to be surrounded by a representative of each group. In front of us, the hippie parents. To my left, the burbs (yes, I had a hard time getting any of the seat rest, because the man's arms were flowing over it). To Julie's right, the aging teenagers. Behind us, the leather folks – a straight couple that evidently had decided either that Mika was boring or a total turn-on, because they spent the entire evening making out in a way that even in San Francisco we would find distasteful. I mean, getting hit in the back by her head because he's banging her? Come on!
I thought the concert was going to be a terrible nuisance because the hippie parents were completely out of control. They would stand up for everything that happened on stage (BEFORE there was any singing action, I mean even when one of the crew brought a cable over from one side of the stage to the other), and then the she of them started doing all these loopy moves on the edge of her seat when the opening act came in… The OA wasn't bad per se, it was just not the kind of stuff I would have bought for myself. Or chosen to listen to. Or been willing to leave the radio station tuned to.
Yet, "Dharma's mother" went on a total rave, all excited and even tearful, so much so that Julie and I thought she must be the singer's mother. Fortunately, once the OA was over and the stage dressed properly, things got better. As Mika jumped in with his band, the mood (my mood included) turned immediately. All of a sudden, we were all jumping, the whole theater (I am surprised the thing withstood the rhythmic forces).
The place was packed beyond its limits, we were like little sardines hopping in our tin boxes. I was hip-hitting Julie on one side and the burbian on the other, and we were just beyond ourselves. Mika is a wonderful act. He sings live (he's got an amazing voice, but it's a shame the acoustics in the theater were not particularly good), and he really loves the audience. When he's on stage, you really feel that's what he always wanted to do, and that he loves you just because you make his dream come true.
The songs were mostly his recent CD. It looked like most of the crowd knew the lyrics of the more popular songs, and whenever something catchy came on, we were on a wild trance party again. One notable exception was "Ring, Ring," formerly on heavy rotation on my MP3 player, but evidently on nobody else's.
Mika being the stage guy he is chose the sequence carefully, sandwiching the ballads in the middle, leaving the "fun" songs to both ends of the concert. Right in the middle, he played "Billy Brown," a song about a man falling in love with another man. He seemed genuinely surprised that he didn't get a lot of traction with it, but I guess there were not that many gay men in the audience, anyway. Those that were, on the other side, were probably not particularly excited about a story line with a married man that turns gay out of love and then turns straight again.
When it came to "Love Today," his possibly most crazily fun song, Mika had a wonderful percussion solo with his drummer. She's this big-bosomed, giant-haired, $10,000-smile black girl in a poison green dress that was really the highlight of the night. I mean, she easily outshone Mika in stage presence, and I hope she's going to get a chance to start her own solo career. She sat most of the night on her podium, high above the stage, and was just having a blast with all of us!
The rest of the band was a bit drab. The other keyboarder (Mika does keyboards) and the guitar guy were dudes I'd check off as straight dock workers in Liverpool in the looks department. Didn't help they were wearing uniforms of unmatching red satin shirts and green ties: the off looks and their straight-laced faces just made them more bystanders than participants. Like they smuggled themselves onto stage.
The bass player, now, was a different story. A short guy of Asian descent, he did a nice solo and was quite with the flow of things. He reminded me a little of Tony Kanal of No Doubt fame, with positive energy and confidence.
The band ran through the repertoire without pause. Mika went offstage for a few minutes while the background vocals (all 1 of them) came onto it in a Rio de Janeiro carnival dress to cheer us up. She tore the dress off and stood there in a very unrisky bikini – not exactly what you'd need to get a San Francisco crowd even mildly amused.
After the Rio side-show, Mika came back and sang Eurythmics' "Missionary Man" with her. Now, I've never been a big fan of Missionary Man – a song I find a bit too monotonous – but even with his amazing voice, Mika really shouldn't try an Annie Lennox. By itself, he's got an amazing organ, but if you put him next to her, you wish he had an ounce more talent and a pound more singing lessons. The comparison would be unfair, since he's so much younger and has a lot of time to build his talent, but he invited it upon himself.
Mika left "Grace Kelly" for the end, followed by an encore of "Lollipop." Grace Kelly was started by a strange duel with a papier-mache Mexican death puppet twice Mika's size. Death first came to him, then they embraced each other, then Mika kicked Death away. It was all quite puzzling and pointless.
Lollipop at the end was as theatrical and dramatic as you'd expect: the cannons were relentlessly shooting giant confetti, the stage-hands were throwing oversized balloons into the crowd, and the cast of Big Girls, Lollipop Girls, and others all crowded the stage to a jumping and singing Mika. We were all ecstatic at that point, wildly jumping up and down, all putting a mortgage on our voices in a mad dash to hear ourselves sing with him. We'd have to pay back for a few weeks, at least, but it was all worth it.
Yes, it was all worth it. Mika is an amazing performer. He's born for the stage. And even if you don't like his music, you'll love the groove of his concert.