21 Nov 2009, 14:11 MST

Rachael Yamagata - Live at Mesa Arts Center

I am officially the Tin Man. Rachael Yamagata has finally stolen my heart outright, and I am without. There are no pictures due to a pretty hilarious-but-not-funny pre-show situation with the box office staff at Mesa Arts Center (I ruined Joe’s whole evening), but the things I saw are serving to fill the void where my heart resided previously, so that’s handy. How these abstract images and indistinct emotional impressions are keeping me alive, I’ll never know, but I don’t question the proverbial “gift-horse” and neither should you. Also, before we get into it, I realize that the Brandi Carlile concert review set the bar very high. I will not meet it here. This was not the best show I’ve ever seen, Brandi remains the Undisputed Champion of Live Shows. However, this show had a lot of personal satisfaction for me in addition to being very good and if you like the more sedate experience of the concert hall, you would’ve enjoyed this show, no doubt.

It’s worth noting up front that Rachael Yamagata is funny. Outright witty, even. Considering the heft and subject matter of her songs, you might expect a pretty dour and gravitas-rich live experience. Nay. She had lighthearted banter a-plenty for us, which was a nice performance foil to the aforementioned song weight. Her opener was only about forty-five minutes, which was not enough. She yielded the stage to The Swell Season who also put on quite the show. It’s also worth noting up front that the Ikeda Theater at the Mesa Arts Center is gorgeous, and the acoustics were wonderful. Both acts took time to point out how amazing the venue was, that’s how great we’re talking here. I will be actively seeking the opportunity to attend more shows at the Ikeda. Now, on to the business at hand.

I missed Rachael Yamagata twice, to my knowledge. November 13, 2006, Hotel Café tour at Club Congress. I had a ticket to this. No joke. The week prior, some dude, we’ll call him Random Methhead, smashes the back glass of my truck in an ill-conceived attempt to steal it. I put it in the shop, I’m supposed to be getting it back on the 13th, no lie, and they just plain don’t finish it. They don’t tell me until it’s WAY too late to make other arrangements. A young and wide-eyed Sara Bareilles was also on this tour. It was…disappointing. Second time, that I’m aware of, she was opening for Mandi Moore last year, the date is shaky. I just really didn’t want to go to a Mandi Moore show. I know, it sounds distasteful and weak to me too. It’s not really about Mandi Moore’s music, it’s about Mandi Moore fans. It’s the same kind of reason I don’t go to Slipknot shows, even though I’ve heard they’re epic. This show may have been canceled at the last minute, as I recall, so it’s possible my dereliction of duty didn’t actually cost me. I still take responsibility. Fast-forward to this tour and I don’t even know there is a tour. I am in the dark. Thanks entirely to a timely reminder from Summer over at ELIZA Magazine, I was able to snag some acceptable mezzanine seating, and the rest…well…you can only read about it in my autobiography. Or the next paragraph.

As we sat, the stage arrangement came into discussion. Grand piano, multiple guitars, trap kit, the whole nine. It occurred to us that we didn’t know if she was touring with a band. I proceeded to reiterate my “artist with instrument” postulate of live music which states: “Man, why can’t they ever just come on stage with their thing and just play? Why’s there always gotta be a bunch of other stuff going on, you know?” It’s informal. Until now it’s been an untested dream, for the most part, but I have always predicted that this distillation would create a perfect ambrosia of experience and expression. Let me tell you how my girl Rachael Yamagata rolls. Grand piano, acoustic guitar and an acoustic guitar accompanist. Amazing. Simple perfection. I have upgraded my postulate to a hypothesis. More testing is required, obviously.

The lights go down and Rachael walks out to light applause. Clearly the audience wasn’t “in the know”. As the inevitable hush falls, she leans in to her mic and whispers “Hi, I’m Rachael Yamagata”. She laid down Elephants to open and it was wonderful in all the ways that matter. I shed a single tear of perfect contentment, and gave a hearty farewell handshake to the monkey, as he climbed off my back and austerely exited the theater. Missed opportunities, regret, but at last this unicorn was caught. I won’t bring you to tears with a play-by-play, but the show incorporated bits from Elephants and Happenstance and in that place with that arrangement…well. It was, perhaps, the perfect way to experience Rachael for the first time. I can only hope upon hope that she comes back again and again. Either that or I move to LA and live next to the Hotel Café in a box. It’s not so much a career path as a calling.

I am obligated at this time to recognize Joe’s certification as the World’s Most Brilliant Man for pulling out his iPhone and firing up Voice Recorder. We have a mostly-complete monaural version of this show. Joe provided me with the raw audio and I took it into Soundbooth CS4 and tried to make it sound less like it was recorded on an iPhone from the mezzanine of a theater. The iPhone is hardly a high-fidelity recording implement, but I did my best to reign it in and widen the sound. I cut a couple tracks out (complete with live ambiance like me laughing and seat noise and all that) so there wouldn’t be a 40 minute mp3 to play back, but in the grand tradition of “bootin'”, drop me a line if you want the whole thing. You will have the experience of sitting next to Joe and I, including speculation about how someone gets the giggle-fits and all sorts of other nonsense. I don’t think there are so many of you reading that will want a copy that I’ll find this an issue, but do feel free to prove me wrong with your vast, uncountable numbers. Hopefully the suits won’t find us.

I’ll leave it for another time or perhaps another author to cover the Swell Season. I think they’re pretty good, but I’m not enamored of them. However, insomuch as they brought Rachael Yamagata back to Arizona, I am forever in their debt.

What If I Leave – Rachael – Live at Mesa
Even So – Rachael – Live at Mesa