Rachael Yamagata lets loose in Louisville

Piano playing, guitar-picking Rachael Yamagata has been on the road since about the time her new album, “Chesapeake,” was released in Mid-October. In that time she’s hit cities from Portland, Maine to Hollywood and points between.
When the tour stopped at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville Saturday night, on what was essentially the last leg of a long journey, the effects of road life were clearly weighing on her.
She confessed to the audience that she’d lost her hairbrush and her deodorant (don’t worry, she borrowed some.) She was sick with a cold – at one point having to stop a song at its crescendo to cough. And then there was this whole weirdness involving her and some front row hecklers, some back row drunkards and an argument about Col. Sanders. Not that it really came that close to blows but she did tell the agitators that she was ready for a fight if need be – “we’re pretty much ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ at this point,” she said. The band had to lighten things up by breaking into a few bars of “Eye of The Tiger.”
The entire night seemed to alternate between quirky little moments like that and beautifully performed renditions of both her old and new works.
And those two alternating components of the show collided and sparked in wonderful ways. For instance, she shared this horrifying story about how a dead baby whale washed up on shore the first time she listened to a finished version of her song “You Won’t Let Me.” So while she is playing this super sappy love song she tells the audience “I hope you stop feeling what you’re feeling and think of dead baby whales.”
I’m going to go ahead and confess that heading into the night, I wasn’t a huge Yamagata fan. And it probably happens all the time where a person goes to a show and has a deeper appreciation for an artist but I think I actually know why that was so in my case.
First of all, her voice is completely under served by recording technology. Judging from her latest record, I thought I was going in to see a quaint little button-down artist. But when she got on stage, in spite of her illness, she had this huge and incredibly captivating, smokey voice.
Secondly, while her last album had its moments, it feels way too polished and perfected. By contrast, she was completely unglued in concert, which made her seem more authentic. It makes me wonder if the show would have been nearly as memorable if Louisville was the first stop instead of one of the last.
And finally, she was flanked by some really talented musicians that loomed much larger live than in any recording I’ve heard from her. Fellow singer/songwriter Mike Viola not only did a great job opening the show with a solo set, but also added a lot as a guitarist/pianist/whatever else member of her band. And you really felt a lot of cohesion between them.
I guess it’s a challenge for any artist to bottle the lighting of a live show. But on Saturday night she showcased a weary toughness that I hope one day finds its way onto one of her recordings.


About hoosierhits
The music blog of the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville & New Albany, Ind.

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