LOS ANGELES—“That’s so weird.” I assumed my boyfriend was referring to the man treating the Troubadour’s taped-off stadium seating in its balcony like his own private fort to which we had not been invited, but to make sure, I asked, “What?”
“It’s like watching greatness happen.” This may sound like an overestimation, but when you consider that Pharrell had a variation of the same reaction to hearing Maggie Rogers’ music for the first time, it’s not all that of a stretch.
The clip, surfacing online last June, went viral. A visibly stunned super-producer listening in silence to an oblivious NYU student’s song—one she believed would “need a couple more hours of mixing and mastering,” no less—but showing his shock, awe, and approval in other ways: with raised eyebrows, side-eyes, head nods, near-tears, restless hands, quizzical brows trying to make sense of her talent and, finally, an exhaled “wow.” As part of the Clive Davis Institute’s Masterclass, Skateboard P was likely supposed to be giving critiques but, with Rogers, he gave up, instead saying: “I have zero, zero, zero notes for that...I’ve never heard anyone like you before…That’s a drug for me.”
And so, when my plus-1 made his declaration five songs into Rogers’ sold-out set in West Hollywood on Tuesday night (March 21), I didn’t disagree. Rogers has carved a distinct lane, probably with a tool she’s whittled herself, in electro-pop. But so has, like, Charli XCX. And that’s not what this is. Within that loose frame, Rogers blends wistful folk and rhythmic soul to make for some dreamy yet danceable stuff. Per Pharrell, it’s “singular.”
Like she did with her recently-released, five-song EP Now That The Light is Fading, Rogers opened her set with “Color Song,” a slow-moving, entirely a cappella cut (save for a few background cricket chirps) that plays out like a hymn you’d set sail to. She sang it in the dark, with her hands behind her back, and a bun on top of her head. But that was quickly pulled loose once the beat dropped on the follow-up, a drop that also ignited her dancing. Watch any performance of Rogers’ and you’ll know that her dance moves rival that of Lorde’s; they alternate between jerky and delicate, but are always carefree. And somewhere in between the track’s twinkling, drum thumps, and knock of a woodblock, she made time to wave “Hi, L.A.!”
On “Dog Years,” a shimmery synth track that manages to make you nostalgic for moments you haven’t experienced, she showcased a fluttery falsetto. On its successor, a track she announced as “a slow jam, so do your thing,” she delivered breathless run-on verses over scaling keys and declared: ”I cannot fall in with you / I cannot feel this way so soon / I cannot be this way with you.” She took off her jacket and grabbed her guitar for the yearning “# (demo)”; beat a drum pad on “Better”; decorated the room with spinning disco ball-like reflections during a newly bombastic cover of Neil Young’s once-country “Harvest Moon”; and jumped on top of speakers for the bright piano plodding of “On + Off.”
Before closing with the Pharrell-approved, breakthrough hit “Alaska” (see above)—birthed from the music “where [her] soul is” (folk) and the music with which she had a “spiritual experience” (dance)—Rogers said, “I just want to take a second to say thank you. The craziest thing about the internet, there are all these faces behind computer screens that can change your life. I really like doing this quite a bit.”
Like a few of the other unreleased songs she performed, I don’t know the title of her encore, a piano-backed ballad, but I feel like I could make out, “The only thing I ever really wanted to say was, ‘surprise’” and, if true, how prophetic.