Rachael Yamagata’s soulful, cigarette-scratched voice is definitely the perfect recipe for heartbreak.
On the 22nd of February, Yamagata and her band were in town on a sole mission to shatter some hearts at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Without even an ounce of attitude, this down-to-earth songstress graced the stage with her new single, Even If I Don’t from Chesapeake and everyone in their barely-warmed seats was swaying unconsciously in-synch with her fingers dancing around the piano.
With the innate ability to connect with people, Yamagata treated her fans like her old friends by sharing life stories and joking around. The intense connection she shared with her fans is quirky and unnervingly spot on. “So…How was your Valentine’s? I’m asking because I know my fans,” she asked cheekily with her guitar swinging from her shoulder after performing Letter Read. A round of oh-damn-she-just-get-it laughter and giggles were exchanged among the crowd.
Yamagata alternated between her piano and guitar during her selection of fast and slow songs. She sang a fair portion from Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Skin and Happenstance while emphasized slightly more from her new album, Chesapeake. When the signature “Elephants” was played, I could feel the entire hall opening up, breathing in and out while pressing their hands onto their chests altogether. It didn’t matter that some of the audience looked as though they were barely 17 and some were in the 50s. Once she hit her first note, my friend gave me a slight squeeze on my arm and I mumbled “I know” in my choked-up voice.
Her croaky, dark ramblings in between the songs movingly bind all her fans together. Before performing You Won’t Let Me, she explained that this song is written at the “When-you-feel- like-your-love-is-enough-to-save-somebody” moment, a moment that I can’t be any less familiar with even if I tried. She also spoke about the experience of a tortured love triangle during Worn Me Down and the emotional baggage one carries from previous relationships in Deal Breaker. That night, a bare naked Yamagata was on stage, choosing not to mask her sadness.
Yamagata may not have the whimsical appeal of Feist or the diva-presence like Adele, but she delivers intense rawness.
Listen to her plead, “Please stay, don’t you walk away, don’t you walk away, don’t you walk away” in Be Be Your Love; sense her tormented exasperation when she sang, “I won’t live for you, or die for you, won’t do anything anymore for you, because you leave me here on the other side” in Sunday Afternoon. Every single note she played, every single word she sang spoke of her unapologetic emotional honesty.
All her fans seemed to know the words to all her 13 songs that were performed. Even Yamagata was surprised that her fans know of the title of her upbeat new song, Saturday Morning when she was describing the story before leading up to the song. Upon singing that song, she teared a little through her smile and said, “It makes me sad to be happy”. Oh boy, can someone just hug her already?
Towards the end of the concert, Yamagata’s flu-inflicted voice was pretty strained that she couldn’t hit the note in Deal Breaker. Instead of feeling embarrassed or being bothered by it, she simply laughed it off and seeked help from her band-mates. It was so genuine that the crowd gave her encouragement and after a couple times of trying, she nailed it.
After 1 hour and 15 minutes, at her declaration of the last song, the crowd starting to protest.
“There’ll always be more songs if you clap louder. But you didn’t hear it from me.” She whispered the last line cheekily and scurried off to the backstage.
Then the waves of claps started, after 5 minutes Yamagata stepped out and ended the night with Reasons Why and Meet Me by the Water.
That night, the hall was probably filled with all the emotionally distraught people one could ever find on the street. She definitely had all our long, buried feelings stirred and served right up in a plate. For once, I have never felt this much of heartbreak and gasping breaths in a room. If Yamagata weren’t a singer, she could be a doctor – saving souls with her music.
*Images are courtesy of Joanna Kwa of Greenhorns Production
- Elaine Neo