REVIEW: Dancing in the mirror with Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers is everywhere lately — from appearing at the Met Gala and on “Ellen” to remixing the Jonas Brothers and topping NPR’s best new music listener poll (she will almost certainly receive a “Best New Artist” nomination from the Grammys, just wait) — and Friday night, the electro pop-influenced singer-songwriter was right here in Austin to make her debut performance on an "Austin City Limits" TV taping. There are some entertainers who capture our hearts with a kick, strut and a single wail, and Rogers is one of those, her charisma captivating the crowd from song one with an impassioned chorus kick in those bright red boots.
Rogers’ keyboardist is a doppelgänger for the 25-year-old Maryland native, and she kickstarted the show with a fake-out of sorts, as she quietly assumed position behind her instrument and launched into the “Give A Little” intro. I thought, "That’s an extremely chill way to get a concert going," but then Rogers herself bounded onstage from behind the curtain draped in a fringed, fire hydrant-red dress worn over matching pants (or was it a jumpsuit?) and matching boots that she’d quickly kick off after only a few songs.
“Whenever we play in a historic place, we think about channeling the energy of the space and whoever played here,” Rogers said later in the set, “shoes or no shoes.”
She played two of the most mesmerizing tracks from her debut album, this year’s “Heard It In A Past Life,” at the very beginning — “Say It” and “On + Off” — two songs that I feel are strongest when layered one after the other, as they are on the album and as she played at ACL Live. “Say It” describes a fleeting crush; “On + Off” a, yes, on-and-off relationship. The latter song is actually from Rogers’ 2017, EP “Now That The Light Is Fading,” but was given new life on the full album.
That one-two punch, plus “The Knife” and its hard-driving bass line, best encapsulate Rogers’ ability to make the “sad bangers” that Mark Ronson keeps talking about in the press around his own 2019 release, "Late Night Feelings." Rogers somewhat famously grew up in rural Maryland with a folk-music background, but she started experimenting with pop sounds after traveling abroad. The marriage of the two seemingly disparate genres makes for a riveting live show. Rogers as a performer reminds me of Lorde, and her wild, un-choreographed dance moves that are 100% true to herself and her music, haters be damned! That carefree spirit to move naturally, without insecurity, exudes peace and feels like dancing with your best friend, or just with yourself in front of a mirror.
As much as “Heard It In A Past Life” is about reclaiming her own space in the music world, she couldn’t get away with skipping “Alaska,” the electro-pop track that went viral after a video of Pharrell listening to it, shellshocked, during Rogers’ NYU master class, hit the Twittersphere. She played it, but she played a shortened version and stuck it in the middle of the set, clearly not wishing for the show to center on a track that brings to mind Pharrell’s name more than her own.
Her closing song, then, was perhaps not so surprising: an a cappella take on “Color Song,” a sparse, pretty track from her EP with lyrics that read like a pastoral poem and is nothing if not 100% her.