On the road, promoting her latest album Tightrope Walker, Rachael Yamagata treated a crowd of dedicated music aficionados to a very special night of low-key and introspective musical delights at the King’s Arms Ale House in Salford. Playing a mixture of old and new songs, ranging from soft sway-along ballads to ultra raspy rock tunes, Yamagata was supported by promising new acts, Tragicomedies and The Gildings.
First on stage, singer-songwriter Tragicomedies entertained the people who had ventured into the attic with his own blend of whiskey-powered dark songs about lost love with believable folk sounds reminiscent of Jackson C. Frank. With the crowd slowly growing in size, The Gildings, whose between-song-banter was strong enough to give any stand-up comedian a run for their money, took to the stage. After starting off with his ‘this is my big hit’ song Sapphire to punish the smokers who left between sets, The Gildings mesmerised the audience with a unique and strangely beautiful, albeit shaky to start, voice and hypnotic keyboard playing.
At 9.30pm, Rachael Yamagata took to the stage and kicked things off with The Only Fault from her acclaimed Elephants… album, which she wrote whilst contemplating cheating on a boyfriend. It was clear from the first note that Yamagata was an experienced and passionate musician and that the crowd was in for a treat. Her endearingly raspy yet gentle, at times vulnerable, voice drew in the 100-strong crowd as they slowly inched closer to the stage. Yamagata quickly showed a varied arsenal of vocal ability that makes her a truly special musician to see live.
After playing two songs, she was joined by long-time collaborator Michael Chaves on guitar, who mixed the late Leonard Cohen’s last album while he was on tour with Yamagata in Vietnam. Chaves guitar sounds clearly showed his Californian heritage with reverb-heavy surf vibes.
The concert reflected a powerful and energetic artist with a clear vision of where to take her music. Co-producing Tightrope Walker, which she recorded at her home in Woodstock, New York, together with a host of fellow artists, the focus lay on letting the songs speak for themselves.
Instead of trying to manicure a handpicked few songs from a larger array, Yamagata’s approach to the new album was to let the songs run free and for her to follow, wherever they lead her. The result is a truly unique, occasionally rather dark, introspective, and reassuringly uplifting work that will very likely stand the test of time and rival the success of Elephants…, though Yamagata joked about Elephants… getting her kicked of a record label.
Many artists, promoting a new album, will play most of the album and finish on a couple of well known, tried and tested hits. It was refreshing to have a break from this format. The set list on the night was akin to a concept album, mixing songs from her four albums to take the audience on a roller coaster ride of slow ballads, that at times conjured images of Helena Christiansen and Chris Isaac having a bit of a cuddle on a beach, and fast paced upbeat rock tunes about falling in love.
Unfortunately, my favourite song from the new album Nobody, did not make the list, but Rachael assured me that it would be part of the set when she returns to the UK in Spring 2017.
We are often searching to put reason to actions, trying to answer the question ‘why?’ and why we do certain things. Yamagata’s show answers that question with ‘sometimes we just are and do things because we feel like it’. There is no need to answer the question of ‘why’. Retrospectively influenced by the philosophy of Philippe Petit, Tightrope Walker suggests that sometimes we need to forget about trying to make sense of our actions but simply let go, live in the moment, and enjoy the things that make us happy.
The slow and quite nature of a lot of the songs on the night made for a very still atmosphere. As a matter fact, things got so quiet that support act The Gildings was disturbed by music emanating from an audience member’s earphones, which had been accidently left on. The crowd seem to enjoy the show as much as me with shouts and whistles after every song.
Fortunately, Yamagata and Chaves played Duet from the Elephants… album, which deals with two artists falling in love, once I had finished photographing and had withdrawn to the back of the crowd, as it allowed me to dry my eyes without anyone noticing.
The show was polished, yet still raw, exuding authenticity and a true relationship to the songs rather than pumping out popular numbers. The inward-looking nature of the lyrics coupled with the flawless delivery make them highly credible and engaging. It is stimulating to see artists write, produce, and perform songs because they feel a true connection to what they are singing about instead of trying to sell records.
The choice of small venue made for a magically intimate and tangible show for a very lucky audience. There was a great connection between crowd and artists, with plenty of stage banter. Overall, the show was very special, largely due to the relaxed setting and Yamagata’s authentic involvement in her own music. With only one show left on her current UK tour, she is one to watch out for when she comes back to the UK in Spring 2017. I for one am looking forward to seeing her play again.
Live Review & Photography by Gunnar Mallon.
Rachael Yamagata at King’s Arms Pub, Salford on 21 November 2016