It has been a few years since this very talented artist last played in Ireland. However, a crowded room of admirers at the upstairs venue in Whelan’s gave Rachael a great welcome and the honesty and warmth in her performance had everyone wrapped up in the joy of what turned out to be a special evening.
Clive Barnes played a support set to his usual excellent standards and his easy story telling had the room well warmed up for the main act, which Clive was instrumental in bringing back to Ireland. His performance on Highway 61 was a real tour de force and not only is he a superb guitar player but he can also perform in the varied roles of booking agent, driver, tour manager and roadie, added to his impressive CV.
Rachael Yamagata has been compared to many famous names over the years, with both Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones mentioned, but the old saying that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ springs to mind as being quite apposite.
Rachael has a very confident stage presence and an instant likeability factor, as she tells stories of her life and experiences as a professional musician. Tonight, she visits six of her releases, including her latest, Porch Songs, and her ability on both keyboard and guitar is complemented perfectly by a voice that is very, very special; full of character and depth and the power of her delivery in a live setting is quite compelling. Add in the use of visual media and a backdrop of videos and nature scenes, changing in a slide-show format, to colour the performance, and the impact builds layers to the overall experience.
Early songs like Meet Me By The Water and I Want You, are filled with vulnerability and the strength to endure, despite disappointments and expectations in others. Old favourites like Dealbreaker, The Way It Seems To Go, Elephants and Heavyweight are greeted like the old friends that they are; filled with hard won insight into the human condition and the crack in all of us. Hers is the territory of the vagaries of love, both lost and found; enjoyed and endured; sacrificed and survived - left to fight another day, renewed and rewired.
She talks about not being known for her upbeat songs, but her performance of Saturday Morning is quite a treat and the wonderful video that accompanies Let Me Be Your Girl (Allison Janney giving an acting master class in emotions) is superbly integrated, as Rachael sings over a backing track and brings a smile to everyone’s face. Indeed, over 90 minutes and 16 songs, the night just seemed to fly by, as the audience embraced the superb performance.
Rachael speaks of the challenges facing her country at present, indeed the entire planet, and delivers a wonderful cover of the Rufus Wainwright song, Going To A Town. Written in 2007 for his Release The Stars album, the words resonate as if written for the current times with lines “You took advantage of a world that loved you well; I'm going to a town that has already been burnt down; I'm so tired of you, America”.
Her final song is a real show highlight with the raw emotion of You Won’t Let Me, hitting hard and raising goose bumps, in a deeply soulful delivery which is mesmerising in its conviction and yearning. When you can move people to this extent then there is only one thing left to do – celebrate the unique essence of music to touch a common chord in us all and to extend a big group hug. Gig of the year for me by a mile.
Review and photo by Paul McGee