The last time Julia Michaels performed in Houston, she opened for P!nk at the Toyota Center. Last night, Michaels made her Houston headlining debut in the much more intimate House of Blues just around the corner from that cavern the Rockets call home.
Before taking the stage, her crew placed a banner front and center that read “Judgement Free Zone” with a checklist of encouraged crowd behavior including singing, dancing, jumping, feeling, and laughing. By the end of the opening number, coincidentally titled “Pink,” she and the crowd checked off each of those marks. The youthful downstairs-only crowd infectiously hollered the song’s typically whispered hook, and ceased to let up the sing-alongs throughout the evening’s set list.
Their adoration as fans goes a bit further than knowing each lyric to Michaels’ gradually growing discography; it translates into an unspoken communal respect for the introverted pop singer. When she confesses in a mid-show speech to struggling with stage anxiety (“Into You”), something you wouldn’t imagine plagues her based on her stage presence, they shut up and listen. When she forges a path to the middle of the standing room crowd sans B-Stage for a ukulele set, they give her her personal space – so much space, that she has to invite them to come closer to her, reminding them that she doesn’t bite.
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She started her career writing sticky pop melodies for giants such as Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony, Shawn Mendes, and the likes, but an inner pop-punk streak shines through in her solo work (“Uh Huh”). Her onstage persona brings to mind a young Gwen Stefani – who, unsurprisingly, Michaels has written for – with a bubblier side, softer around the edges, but still just as zany and adventurous. She alternates between magnified arena stage gestures like kicking, twirling, and jumping around the stage and blink-and-miss-it moments like blowing a kiss or grinning and nodding her head in response to her own lyrics (“Worst In Me”).
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Her and her energetic band’s crowd interaction harks back to classic pop days with the tried and true ‘Which side is louder?’ schtick. It’s a topical,
tired unnecessary sort of pandering, but the crowd didn’t mind. Michaels made up for it with more meaningful conversations on overcoming anxiety and depression, offering the crowd some much needed group therapy in the form of group hugs and screams. Two group screams, to be exact. Should she ever strike out with the whole multi-platinum-singer-songwriter-turned-recording-artist thing, she might strike gold in the psychiatric field.
After all, she’s got issues – and you’ve got ‘em too.
I Miss You
Make It Up to You
Worst in Me
Fuck You (CeeLo Green snippet)
Falling for Boys
What A Time