Rachael Yamagata, Dan Wilson, and Madi Diaz at The Independent 3.2.12

by Raffi Youssoufian on March 5, 2012

I know it’s the biggest cliché you can think of, but somehow, I keep falling into it.  Sure I’ve liked Rachael Yamagata, that’s been “Known For Years” now.  She’s a great song writer, great husky emotive voice, the piano, you know, the whole nine.  But at times, I get bored.  She gets the mood going, this dark depressing mood, and…actually, I think she explains it very well.  On stage, she mentioned how she’s always surprised that people ask her to play their weddings.  In her opinion she’s better suited to play their divorce proceedings.  I thought she just might be a little stale and boring live. “The Reason Why” these clichés have apparently “Worn Me Down,” I really can’t say. But what I can say is that I was entirely wrong.   There’s a reason you go see an artist play live.  Sure they can always disappoint and sound exactly like they do on record, but the gamble is worth it when it pays off.

I randomly met the first opener Madi Diaz across the street at a café before the show.  I sat down next to her and her guitarist having dinner having no clue who she was.  We chatted for a few minutes after I heard them talking about SXSW, and interjected.  To my surprise that same couple came out on stage once the show started.  Based out of Nashville, Madi started the show with a very thoughtful and complete alt rock /pop tune.  Littered with raw poppy chords and folkish melody, I really see no reason why she shouldn’t be on the radio.  She doesn’t have the most distinctive voice, but she can definitely let it go.  She reminds me very much of Nicole Atkins, but a little better. Throw her on a bill opening for Matt Nathanson, and her fan base would explode.

Dan Wilson followed with one of the stranger sets I’ve seen in a long time.  Honestly I had no clue who he was, and I think a lot of the crowd was in the same boat.  After about three songs, the place was drained.  The crowd was talking pretty loud, it looked bleak.  Then he mentions he used to sing “a little” for an old band named Semisonic.  The room must have lit up because the light bulbs over everyone’s heads started shining.  He then jumped into a crowd pleasing rendition of “Someone Like You” which he co-wrote with Adele, followed by a surprising Semisonic sing-along fest.  Dan is a great and personable performer.  I was surprised everyone still knew all the words to “Closing Time” and “Singing in My Sleep.”  But he seemed genuinely surprised and appreciative by the reception and participation of the crowd.  I feel like I can now say I’ve seen Semisonic live!

A little flustered walking up on stage, Rachael announced they were short some band mates tonight.  Some new equipment caused a restart of the first song, but once that was out of the way, Rachael eased in and got things going.  Pretty as ever, and with a multi-instrumentalist on each side playing variations of guitars, and percussion, Rachael not only sang but talked up a storm.  Ridiculously friendly, she would start talking about the songs, ask us questions, or just tell funny stories.  She was even nice enough to reciprocate a gift given to her by a drunken fan girl, giving her the very necklace she was wearing on stage.

Breaking the cliché in my head, after two songs, to my surprise she got up from the piano and grabbed a guitar.  For some reason I was completely shocked.  With a different dynamic she almost felt more comfortable rocking out on “Starlight” and “Worn Me Down”.  Her energy changed, and it livened up the crowd.  For those who haven’t seen her before, I’m not sure the idea of dancing ever entered anyone’s mind.  This good natured spirit more than reflected well on past crowds, who in many respects allowed her to release the new album Chesapeake.  After splitting from Warner, she had to rely on donations from fans, friends, and family for the recording.

Vocally very emotive, she’s really engaging live.  Songs that I may have thought a little boring after a few listens on CD, really come alive on stage, as she closes her eyes and channels the passion that got her to write lyrics.  This was more than apparent on “Sunday Afternoon”, a devastating song about the agony love unrequited from her second record.  She just went to another level that immediately made it apparent why you had to see Rachael live to really receive all that she had to give. The compressors in the studio take away some things to make the music sound better, but they seemed to have taken away the sound of her pain along with it, because it’s more than apparent here.

As fans kept shouting out requests, she mentioned it was hard deciding what to play at a show, as she has so much more material than before.  She tried to keep things balanced with equal amounts of songs new and old.  She played just one song solo, “You Won’t Let Me In” as a sort of somber encore, almost as if she was sad to leave.  It really makes you want to like the artist when they are so amiable and sincere.  She is very much someone you’d want to hang out with and have a drink.  It makes the music better, it makes everything better.

Every few months this happens, as I get ever more jaded and jaded, and the counter on the concert tally rises.  It’s so easy to let yourself get tricked into thinking you can skip the show.  You can read all you want about it, you can watch the live clips online, but it’s never the same.  Go see the artist.  And go see Rachael Yamagata.  Lesson learned once again.  Hopefully this time it sticks.


1. Even If I Don’t

2. Why (Listed as Why on the Set List, but said it was called “A Transition”)

3. Starlight

4. Saturday Morning

5. Sunday Afternoon

6. Be Be Your Love

7. Elephants

8. Duet

9.  Meet Me By The Water

10. Worn Me Down

11.  Dealbreaker


1. You Won’t Let Me

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Urgie March 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Thanks for the set list.

You are right, the raw emotion of the live performance cannot be experienced any other way. I enjoyed the show, but I got kind of bored with all the talking she did, honestly. There could have been a few more songs for all that jabbering. I enjoy when a performer is interested in a tight, put-together performance, not asking about requests.


Dean Fields March 6, 2012 at 6:50 pm

That sounds like a great night of music. Dan Wilson is a superb writer. You’re lucky to catch him live. Im glad he’s back to doing shows again. And Rachael is awesome. And the setlist looks like a cool night from her as well. Sorry to have missed it. But thanks for the review.


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