Walking into the Crystal Ballroom for Maggie Rogers’ show on Monday night, I could feel my muscles tensing up — not in excitement or anticipation, but in pain. I was unsure if I could make it through a show I had been waiting months for because I was experiencing a bad flare up of my chronic pain.
But Rogers is a pop performer that begs people to process pain and other feelings with her as she performs, one cathartic dance move and note at a time. So knowing this, and hearing this about her other performances on tour, I stayed. 30 minutes after Melanie Faye, the show’s skilled opener, ended her set, Rogers took the stage in a silvery top and white jeans. Her long strawberry blonde hair, which whips around as she dances and sings, was up in a ponytail. But as soon as the first verse of “Give A Little” started, she let it down. And once her ponytail was out, she was off. My pain didn’t go away at first — but as Rogers jived across the stage, I started to feel my muscles release.
The 25-year-old New York University graduate has had a quick rise to fame. It started when she played her folk-dance track “Alaska” to Pharrell Williams during a masterclass, and the producer was visibly moved by her music. Soon labels were pitching her record deals, and Rogers, armed with her thesis from NYU’s Clive Davis School of Recorded Music, decided to do something different from what the record labels were offering.
Lyrically and spiritually, Rogers could be the millennial child of Joni Mitchell and Carole King. But, like the women who came before, she’s paved her own path in so many ways.
She started her own label, Debay Sounds, backed by a major company, to release “Heard It In A Past Life.” The album is marked by cathartic, swelling dance songs detailed with sounds and images from nature. As Rogers sings on Alaska: “I was walking through icy streams / That took my breath away / Moving slowly through westward water / Over glacial plains / And I walked off you / And I walked off an old me.” The album details the last few years in her life — as her career grew and she became both overwhelmed and excited.
While some Youtube commenters may call her dancing too spasmodic or too much, there are more saying she’s a force to be reckoned with. Rogers is a performer that is almost constantly moving on stage, and at the same time, she’s hitting the notes perfectly.
“I can call my mom, I can call my friends, I can call my therapist, but sometimes there are things I just need to move through,” she said at one point during her set Monday night. “So whatever you’re going through tonight, we’re here for you.”
And the audience members mirrored Rogers’ passion and emotion as they sang (and cried) along to virtually every lyric. Moving through emotions — whether physically or mentally — was the theme of the night.
Some of Rogers’ songs took on a grittier, denser sound live. “Heard It In a Past Life” is an open, airy album, but the band behind Rogers gave the songs more darkness. Later in the show, during the slow, piano-backed “Past Life,” the stage was bathed in a green, mossy light — as if returning Rogers to her roots.
She covered the whole album during her set and even shed a light on cuts from her earlier EPs. “Dog Years” was dedicated to friends at the show. And after a spiritual, rousing rendition of “Fallingwater,” Rogers and her band bowed.
But, after a quick pause, she came back onto the stage alone. Without any instrumentation and without a microphone at points, Rogers sang “Now That The Light Is Fading.” She painted a serene picture with her voice and lyrics. It melted my pain and instilled a quietness in the room. “Blue is the sky above the lake, blue the water flowing, white birds drooping on the shore,” her voice echoed.
Earlier in the encore, Rogers had talked about the Notre Dame burning. “We build these giant things and they are only here while they are here,” she said. Nothing, not even a live performance, is permanent in our memories. The lights turned back on and pain returned. But Rogers’ Crystal Ballroom performance showed that her voice is here to stay as long as it can.