Oh, the internet, that just-add-water bestower of fame. We live among dogs and cats that become world-famous after a day of viral proliferation. There are slips and falls that everybody from Boston to Bangkok are able to reenact. Like it or not, these are our days.
So it should be no surprise that 22-years-young Maggie Rogers not only sold out the storied Troubadour on Tuesday night, but also generated quite a buzz outside the venue. Sidewalks were crowded with stragglers trying to catch a glimpse of the NYU student made famous by Pharrell’s tears. It was a decidedly modern moment.
Believe it or not, the show’s sonic high point arrived in the first minute or two, as Rogers emerged from the shadows to sing acapella over her Appalachian spiritual, “Color Song.” Having cut her teeth on the banjo and folk music, this moment felt the most naturally her. The creep of dense production elements were soon to nearly overwhelm an organic purity in her voice, alas.
Nevertheless, Maggie Rogers creates music for a modern time with the ancient lyrical tools of a poet. She used a sort of musical onomatopoeia to describe the inhalation and exhalation of air in “Alaska,” even as her breath did what she described. Meanwhile, her use of sibilant alliteration in “Dog Years” softened a rather mournful fatalism: “swimming in sevens, slow dancing in seconds.”
In and among these literary devices was a breezy, bubblegum playfulness that spoke to her age, and those digital throbs that are evidence of the pesky reach of EDM music in 2017. Rogers navigated around the stage with an arsenal of dance moves — some were herky-jerky and exaggerated, others were subtly seductive as she would roll a shoulder to coincide with a rise in her enunciation, or a transition from verse to chorus. By the end of the abbreviated set, Rogers sang from atop the stage monitors, surveying the new world that she has inherited.
Given that her sole EP, Now That The Light Is Fading, has a mere five tracks, Rogers had to fill out her live set. These additions came in the form of two excellent choices of covers (a celestial and almost unrecognizable version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and a quietly beautiful take on The Sunday’s “Here’s Where The Story Ends”), and four other tunes that have received major release. Among the four was slow jam “Say It,” one that managed to reel in the effects, while still leveraging the artful side of echoing electronica.
\In all, there was this confounding sense that Maggie Rogers, two shows deep into her first tour and on the heels of a coming out party at SXSW, has been handed an off-the-shelf, “how to be a popular headlining musician” kit, and a set of marching orders. That is not to say that the performance did not showcase her raw talent, because it did. There was an unaltered clarity in her voice that accompanied her firm grasp of percussive elements. But still, a skeptic must wonder who is pulling the strings behind the curtain of Maggie Rogers’s breakneck ascent? Was it the heavy hand of her major label that advocated for this harder-hitting, middle-of-the-road sound?
Playing this venue should have made more sense. Watching the viral video that (one year ago to the day) made her known to millions, it seems clear that Rogers is more of a trobairitz. Let’s hope that as she gains her footing and evolves as her own artist, she will be able to chart whatever course she deems true to the musings of her musical heart.
(Many thanks and love to Kenley Smith for her thoughtful co-authoring.)
Harvest Moon (Neil Young)
On + Off
Here’s Where The Story Ends (The Sundays)