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Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata

This post is not as much a post per-say, but more of an infonoticeupdateitem. Well, two actually.

  1. A bit ago now, Rachael released Chesapeake, a full-length studio affair crowd-funded by Pledge Music. It is very good and you should get yourself a copy and listen to it. I have every intention of writing it up at some point. Yeah, I can’t take me seriously anymore either. Here are my favorites:

You Won’t Let Me
Full On

  1. Rachael released a new EP also. It is called Heavyweight and it is better than good. It is great. I have spent a quite goodly amount of time with it at this point. I want her to come back to my state of residence and play the music show again. It is my wishiest wish. My selections:

It’ll Do
Nothing Gets By Here

I’ve also seen her live twice TWICE since the last time I spoke of her. I know. I… ::sigh:: I know. Look, she was magical and wonderful both times, I would watch her again and again. Someday I shall even summon the will to actually speak to her when I see her milling about. Someday.

So here we are, dear reader. Two posts, one day. I probably wouldn’t read too much into it.

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

Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata

Part 3: Salvation

My love affair with Loose Ends was…torrid. As a gentleman, I’ll abstain from detail, but believe me when I say this EP and I were close. Serving mostly to wrap up Happenstance, the disc played like bonus tracks to the now venerable debut, a Thinking of You card from Rachael to me. Loose Ends triggered an immediate return to heavy rotation for Happenstance and life was good. I had new music, I had my old friend Happenstance and I had renewed vigor for the long trek to The Promised Record. I felt ready, prepared to receive it.

I was not.

Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart was not what I anticipated. An album in two parts, a true Strange Case in Stevenson’s mould, the spacious and subdued Elephants draws you deep into dreamy reaches of melancholy only to be assaulted by the burning, moody rock of Teeth Sinking Into Heart, the dancing yellow inferno to Elephant’s cool blue flame.

Elephants is a fully-realized cosmology in the key of regret, narrated by Rachael’s emotional delivery. From the first delicate tones of the title track to the last lingering notes of hidden cut The Only Fault, you’re immersed in gorgeous orchestral tracks, cavernous expanses of lost love and woe. Even intimate moments like Duet span a wide sea of squandered possibility where star-crossed lovers float alone in vessels of their own good intentions. The first ten tracks of this two-face play like a concept album, a ten-track experience that is much more than the sum of its parts.

But just when you’re feeling safe in the otherworldly landscape of Elephants, Teeth breaks the reverie with sharp instruments and aggressive vocals, jangling rock and brooding melodies. Powerful drivers lead in, trailing brilliant fire into the smooth sound of Pause the Tragic Ending, and leaving you with Don’t, the mellow conclusion to Teeth. Here, the flames are perhaps the hottest, burning with white-hot control the way only jilted love can.

So here we are. This is right now. The saga continues, as the man says. Rachael has already begun writing for the next album, though if this epic has taught you anything, let it be that it will arrive when it arrives, and not a moment sooner.

You get three from this one. Take heed though, this album is an experience. You should get it. And experience it.

What If I Leave
Brown Eyes

PS. You can get it on vinyl. Just sayin’…

PPS. In case you missed them: Part 1: Falling Hard, Part 2: The Long Wait

Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata

Part 2: The Long Wait

Key moments to this point:

– June 8, 2004, Rachael Yamagata releases Happenstance.
– September 21, 2006, I realize how unbelievably great it is.
– September 22, 2006, Rachael begins punishing me for my lack of vision.

Picture, if you will, two years of winter. Not Arctic Circle frozen tundra desolation winter, now you’re just being melodramatic. Regular old winter. Even if you like winter, it’s supposed to end. The close of fall carries with it the implicit promise that after winter comes spring. But even winter has it’s sunny days, and so went my long wait.

In this interim I discovered so many of my favorites. Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, Rebecka Tornqvist, Bitter:Sweet, Emiliana Torrini, Feist, Ingrid Michaelson, Over the Rhine, Hem, Elizabeth and the Catapult, Sara Bareilles, Clare and the Reasons, Priscilla Ahn (each of whom will have their own entry soon enough). So many that I follow, so many that I love, so many that were not Rachael.

I knew there were back-albums I should get, so I got them. I dug up the original EP, but it wasn’t…right. It was the seed, certainly. I wanted the flower. I dug up Live at the Loft, but I’m not much on live albums, even live albums from Rachael. Two and a half years had passed since Happenstance, I felt certain there must be another studio album due out soon. I was mistaken. I remained mistaken until May 22, 2008.

Loose Ends, it was called. Just an EP, yet such an EP. Introduced with a poem, delivered to the fans direct and digital. The first bloom of spring-time, the hint of fulfillment for the dusty promise that was Happenstance. And it was wonderful. At once an old friend and a new love, composed of what I wanted and providing what I needed. It’s hard for me to overstate the satisfaction this EP delivered, but moreover it came with a new promise of possibility and evidence that the magic was still happening. That the long wait was nearly over.

And so I present but one of three. I cannot encourage you enough to go to the link below and give your three dollars to a worthy artist. You will not regret the purchase.

Answering the Door

In case you missed it: Part 1: Falling Hard

Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata

Part 1: Falling Hard

June 15, 2004. Rachael Yamagata is the iTunes free single of the week and I, without even pausing to consider the ramifications of the moment, download the single. The song: Letter Read. I listened to the song. “That’s ok, I guess.”, I thought. You were expecting a love at first hear story weren’t you? Sorry kids, real life ain’t like the movies.

Two years and three months later (I checked my iTunes purchase history) I find this song in my library. “What is this song? I don’t remember this.” I listened. I…was changed. I promptly bought Happenstance. I wore it out. Wore. it. out. I still listen to this album, I still love this album. This album never gets old.

Rachael Yamagata changed my listening forever. Nearly every Cute Girl I’ve found since Rachael Yamagata has been a direct or indirect attempt to find something that could satisfy my craving for more Rachael Yamagata. Her addictive amalgam of powerful, yearning lyrics, beautifully textured vocals and haunting arrangements is everything I want from the genre. Rachael Yamagata is my favorite Cute Girl, for certain, and may be my favorite artist of all time. I consider it one of the most grandiose and abject failures of my life that I missed her show when she came to town. It’s the sort of thing that haunts you. I’m aware those are strong words. Rest assured, I do not deliver them lightly or without consideration.

Rachael Yamagata, thank you for your music.

These two tracks are just two tracks. Get this album. Just, get this album.

Letter Read
Even So

Next time, Part 2: The Long Wait.