Happy Hour (or Two): Pop Artist Mika shares the love in Denver

Life+In+Cartoon+Motion%0AMika%27s+first+studio+album%0APhoto+by+Hannnah+Tooley

Life In Cartoon Motion Mika’s first studio album Photo by Hannnah Tooley

All Mika wants to do is make you happy (according to one of the songs off of his latest album “The Origin of Love”). And, “happy” was definitely the mood in the air, as a gathering crowd anxiously awaited an appearance of the British pop piano man at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver, last Sunday, Mar. 31. It was to be Mika’s first live show in the Mile High city.

The Origin of Love, Mika's third studio album  Photo by Hannah Tooley
The Origin of Love, Mika’s third studio album
Photo by Hannah Tooley

The concert was quite possibly the best way to spend an Easter Sunday, (besides like, going to church or something), and I wore some celebratory bunny ears to show my appreciation. The venue’s seating was general admission, so fans had to show up a little early in order to stake a claim to a railing or one of the theater’s scattered chairs. However, there didn’t seem to be a bad spot, whether in the balcony or down on the floor, because of the venue’s intimate size. It was the perfect place for the acoustic setlist that the crowd anticipated (a stripped down version of Mika’s usual electro-pop dance anthems) .

The show started off with a DJ act that I later learned was composed of Mika’s two other band mates. The duo’s playlist was unlike any I’ve witnessed before, since it featured a sort of through-the-decades theme. They played snippets of songs from the classic 1940’s hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by The Andrews Sisters to current favorites like “I Love It” by Icona Pop, all interspersed with the sound of a radio tuner. Each time the tune changed, it was fun to wait and listen for a couple seconds to decide if you knew the song, and then laugh at the erupting echoes of “This is my jam” from around the room. However, the most fun thing about the act was watching the DJs, who danced and laughed at each other while pointing out those in the crowd who were also dancing along. I think that once fans got over the initial disappointment that Mika wasn’t coming out yet and realized that the DJs weren’t just playing old songs, they got into it. Everyone was grooving to their favorite tracks, helping each other get loose and ready for the rest of the show, rather than anxious and on the verge of a heart attack (or was that just me?).

After a few moments in setting up the stage, Mika stepped up to the lone grand piano, eliciting a screaming welcome from the crowd. The first song he played was one of his earliest hits back in 2007, “Grace Kelly”.  He wrote the lyrics after a label executive told him he should change his sound, “I tried to be like Grace Kelly/ But all her looks were too sad/ So I tried a little Freddie/ I’ve gone identity mad”. This opening song revealed the intensity of the crowd’s energy–Mika could’ve just played the piano and let the audience sing. Together they were almost as loud as Mika was on his mic.

The next song, “Toy Boy”, showed off Mika’s dark, tongue-in-cheek, songwriting skills, which begins with the lyrics, “I’m a wind-up toy in an up-down world/if you leave me all alone I’ll make a mess for sure/I have a heart of gold in the smallest size/Leave me in the dark and never hear me cry.” The lyrics grow darker from there, however, they are accompanied by a cheerful, circus-like piano melody that makes the tune sound almost happy. This seems to be a repeated theme in Mika’s songs; they feel so bright and hopeful due to their bouncing melodies, until you read the lyrics and your perception is changed.

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, Mika's second studio album  Photo by Hannah Tooley
The Boy Who Knew Too Much, Mika’s second studio album
Photo by Hannah Tooley

Speaking of the crowd, this one was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had the joy of being a part of. They were singing, clapping and dancing along without any encouragement from the band. The drunks in the front row also kept the party interesting, by shouting phrases randomly like “I love you, Mika!” and “You’re beautiful!”. Though this could’ve quickly turned annoying, Mika played with them in between songs.

When a girl said she missed Easter services to come see him, he replied with a boyish smile, “I know I’m not your friend, but you girls don’t look like the type who go to church.” Throughout the night it was easy to see how much Mika appreciated the crowd’s adoration; the grin never left his face, and he often set the mic aside leaving the audience to sing the lines of the chorus or the ending of a tune.

Mika also performed a new song titled “Century Man,” which he explained will be featured in a movie about a rock star who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Mika has also written songs for other films, such as “We Are Young” for Kick Ass back in 2010. There were only a couple of other songs that were unfamiliar to the audience, like one that was written solely for this short acoustic tour, the cool, jazzy “Hia Leah,” and the demo track “Only Lonely Man.” Mika made a point of mentioning that these songs hadn’t been done on any other tour, so that made them pretty special moments.

One of the fan favorites of the night was “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful).” Mika slowed down the intro, so it took the audience a while to recognize the melody. Once they figured it out though, they got into the tribal drumming section, and the crowd–big and skinny alike–danced and laughed and grabbed their hips during the “curves in all the right places” lyric. The band often changed up the arrangements of the songs from the original CD recordings, which kept the music feeling fresh and new and different.

Mika also performed one of his latest singles, “Underwater”, in which he traded his time between the piano and the microphone stand at the center of the stage. The ebb and flow of the melody combined with the sparkle of bare lightbulbs suspended above the stage to show off the dreamy element of the song, which made it stand out from the rest of the dance-heavy setlist.

The final song of the night titled “Over My Shoulder”, was a bonus track off his first album, “Life in Cartoon Motion,” and was initially recorded when Mika was a whopping 16 years of age. The song features a sole piano with a simple melody, so the focus can remain on the lyrics, which admittedly made me tear up a bit. Mika’s high, long, falsetto notes showed off his vocal abilities, and it seemed as if he could change his tone from a grittier, two-note frequency to a beautiful, clear-as-a-bell tone in the same note. (Don’t ask me how).

Life In Cartoon Motion Mika's first studio album Photo by Hannnah Tooley
Life In Cartoon Motion
Mika’s first studio album
Photo by Hannnah Tooley

Even though this was a smaller show, it didn’t stop the audience from treating it like a sold-out stadium in terms of enthusiasm. Although the concert was only supposed to last 90 minutes, Mika and the band extended it an extra half an hour, as they took requests and kept telling the fans that “This is the last one.” At one point, Mika asked the audience to plug their ears until he could find the piano chords to “Rain” since he hadn’t performed it in such a long time. I was amazed that Mika wanted to keep performing song after song, much to the appeasement of the crowd. The endless exchange of energy between an artist and his audience was something I hope everyone gets to experience.  After the show, Mika even tweeted, “I loved tonight’s show so much. The past two gigs remind me in every way why I do this. Thank you.”

So hopefully, that means Denver will be part of future tour lists, since this was definitely a scaled-back version of what a full-fledged Mika pop concert can be. But judging by the amount of love thrown in both directions, I would say our chances are pretty good.

By Hannah Tooley