Say it with Sound: Rachael Yamagata transfixes The Independent on a rainy Monday in San Francisco
This will be her last tour—for now. Rachael Yamagata informed the audience assembled at the Independent on Monday evening that she’s raring to get back in the studio and work on some new songs. That means putting live music on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
Which made it all the more meaningful to attend this concert. There was a Yamaha piano imported just for this occasion, set against a backdrop of shifting on-screen revery projected against a screen behind her. Yamagata would switch between playing that and a plugged-in guitar.
Video montages can be a distraction, but these vignettes were subtle enough to add to the dream-like quality of the performance. There was a collapsable plastic tree, stage right, one of a group of several that Yamagata has picked up after years of searching for suitable stage props.
I’ve yet to make it to ten concerts attended in my life, hard to believe for a just-turned-29-year-old, but I’ve always been a slow starter. This was number 9.
And the Yamagata experience was a first, in that it was my first exposure to a folksy, semi-hushed evening. A good quarter of the crowd were seated, ringed around the stage, ice in drinks clinking quietly. What I quickly noticed: there’s more swaying along, swept up in reverie, than the shouting and stamping of feet one encounters at a rock concert.
Different is different, and in moderation, I guess that’s OK. It was interesting to note what the artist is afforded in this type of context. There was much more dialogue with the audience, sometimes a back-and-forth—most notably when Yamagata handled requests for her final songs of the evening (the closer was Be Be Your Love)—and the familiarity wasn’t forced, largely because many of the attendees had seen Yamagata perform before.
There were also numerous introductions to songs. I’m torn over how I feel about this particular habit, because I instinctively cringe when I hear a song prefaced with the phrase This song is about. When there’s just a bit of background, morsels of information carefully ladled out over the course of an evening…This is what inspired me, This is what I was feeling while I was making this album…I enjoy it. The mystery of the music remains intact.
However, like any fine line, stray that little bit further and you do a disservice to the audience. The dream is collapsed. It’s why I love the anecdote about David Lynch taking Mulholland Drive to Cannes and telling the cast before the press conference, Don’t tell them what it’s about. It’s for each individual member of the audience to decide.
That’s the great magic in music, and any art, and it’s something that Yamagata alluded to midway through the concert, before her fingers danced along those Yamaha keys to produce yet another sad, sad, beautiful song. That through some mysterious osmosis, one of the great mysteries of the universe, intensely personal lyrics, the more specific the better, become universal. What Eminem once railed against: Everyone just feels that they can relate, is instead a source of comfort. In such a fractured world, we should embrace opportunities of empathy.
This is the highest compliment I can think to pay Yamagata, because it is the truest testament I can give her art. It should inspire. You leave the venue, heart filled, with a feeling similar to when I leave a Malick film, and find myself overwhelmed by a sudden urge to capture everything I see through photography. I notice the light playing across surfaces. I see the space between people. At Yamagata’s concert, I’d find myself snapping to attention after lapses of reverie. So calming was her music, that I found my mind fumbling at verse.
What better way to relate our experience.