Comprised of singer-songwriters Ian Axel and Chad King, A Great Big World took the stage Thursday night to perform stripped-down versions of their songs for their hometown audience at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC's Greenwich Village. The concert "truly [felt] like a homecoming show," King said, as the pair met and formed their band while they were attending the Steinhardt School at NYU, just down the street from the venue.
They embarked on their An Evening With Ian & Chad tour March 17 in Annapolis, Maryland, and are making their way through the northeast and Toronto until they conclude in Minneapolis at the end of the month. Before the show, Billboard caught up with them to let fans know what they should expect. "We're going on this tiny tour because we wanted to give something special to our fans while we're working away. We want everyone to hear the songs the way we wrote them: in our living rooms," says King.
They truly delivered: With just a grand piano, some little percussion instruments and a few guitars, the duo sang their hearts out to a packed room. Axel played piano for most of the show, while both sang; King chimed in with miscellaneous instruments, even whipping out a triangle for their musical-theater-inspired song "Cheer Up." While the duo played most of the show on their own, they did have a small rhythm section (electric guitar, electric bass, percussion) come onto the stage for a couple of songs, and they featured their opener, Allie Moss, on a few tunes as well.
A highlight of the night was when each of them played a song solo. King was up first, picking up an acoustic guitar, laughing and saying, "I- I- Uh… This is a song," and proceeded to perform a tender rendition of "I Don't Wanna Love Somebody Else." Axel put on a very passionate solo version of the duo's Billboard Hot 100 top-five hit "Say Something" (which featured Christina Aguilera in the original), moving many audience members to tears.
The two of them were not shy in sharing personal stories and the inspiration behind their songwriting. Before "Won't Stop Running," King shared that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 and was given seven years until he became fully paralyzed. They wrote the song as inspiration for anyone struggling, leaving the audience with encouraging words: "Even on a cloudy day, the sun is still shining."
They closed their set with their fun, bluesy song "Shorty Don't Wait," during which they invited fans up onto the stage to sing with them. They even handed off the microphone to an audience member and had him sing an entire verse solo. As they ended, Axel said, "We have an encore planned, but we don't feel like leaving the stage and coming back. Encores are awkward."
They proceeded to play two of their biggest songs, "Already Home" and "Everyone Is Gay" (both from their debut album Is There Anybody Out There?). After the audience cheered some more, they performed a final encore with a cover of Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me," during which they traded off playing piano, ending the song with both of them playing piano together and belting into one microphone.
As for what's next, King says, "We're writing new music -- which we hope to have out later this year -- and we're in the process of reworking the Broadway musical we've been writing." Axel adds, "Right now, we're learning how to write the music we're most proud of. [With regards to the musical,] we're definitely moving in the right direction. It's some of the most inspired music we've written, and we can see the finish line. The process has been so rewarding. But a musical is like a dying patient: Everyone is working on the musical to keep it alive, and if it survives, it's a miracle."
"We never intended for our music to be on the radio," says Axel, referencing unexpected hit "Say Something." "The success really influenced our last album, and now we're going back to how we wrote just to write. There's lots of pressure to keep up with what's on the radio, so this has been very liberating for us."