Show Review: Rachel Platten with Madi Diaz at Hotel Utah, 5/18/2012

by Stacy Scales on May 21, 2012

Rachel Platten

What’s a girl to do with a Friday night off in San Francisco? When Rachel Platten is in town with her first headlining gig (supporting her album Be Here), the choice is easy. When she brings the lovely Madi Diaz with her and sets up her keyboard on the Hotel Utah’s tiny stage, I’ll even grab a girlfriend and be there with bells on, as was the case last Friday night.

Early on in the day I got word that doors at the Utah wouldn’t open until 9, leaving me plenty of time to get to the city and have dinner with my friend with no concern for running late. Hours later, when Miss Diaz and her guitar appeared onstage, she noted the crowded little venue immediately, saying something about how “cozy” it was, and that we would all “love each other” and “exchange sweat,” but remarking that maybe that was just an average Friday night? “That’s what happens, right?” Her set began with “Love You Now,” followed by one she said she wrote about a guy she used to date who had a motorcycle (“Johnny”). At that point, Madi confessed that she usually performs with a guitar player, but without him, her set is full of sad songs. She apologized for the “downer” her set was turning out to be, saying something about how she was sure we all had nice smiles, and maybe she’d get to see them later.

After “Wherever You Are,” she said something about driving “four hours” to Portland after the San Francisco show. As my brain tried to figure out how one could get there in such a short amount of time, she laughed at herself, explaining that they planned to drive four hours that night, before turning in and finishing the journey the following day. All this was, of course, a great segue into her next song, “Late Night Driving.” After the song, Madi stopped her set to ask her best friend to bring her a capo, in order to play a happier song. She admitted to feeling “super professional” for doing so, and asked the room to give Morgan a round of applause, noting that her friend was back where her CDs were available for sale. (Nice touch!) Once the capo was eventually acquired, she played “Gimme a Kiss,” which she called a “make out song…where the sad songs stem from!”

“My next album will be happy, I swear!” Madi promised, before adding, “…kind of.” Before she began her cover of the Bee Gees’ “Emotion,” she asked us all to imagine a disco ball and roller skates. (And as I write this, I can’t help but ask everyone to observe a moment of silence for the late great Robin Gibb, who just lost his battle with cancer. May he rest in peace.) When she was finished, Madi acknowledged the idea that you’re supposed to “do something cool on Friday night,” saying, “thanks for making me look cool,” and asking everyone to come give “hugs and high fives” after the show at the merch table. After calling the audience “magnificent,” she played her last song, “Down We Fall.”

Madi Diaz

As soon as Rachel Platten took her seat behind her keyboard, it was easy to see how excited she was to be there (whether because she’s in our city or headlining her first tour would be hard to distinguish, but I also don’t think it matters much). She shouted “what’s up, San Francisco!?” and launched immediately into “You Don’t Have to Go,” during which I couldn’t help but notice that this charming blonde is something of a beat-boxing girl next door, and there’s really no word that better describes her than adorable. She and her drummer, Craig Meyer, have an amazing on-stage chemistry that makes their set really entertaining, and this show was no exception. After they took turns beat-boxing the choruses of the first song, Rachel said she was very excited to be back before playing “Overwhelmed,” followed by “Nothing Ever Happens,” which she said she wrote for her little sister: “it’s about getting out of your own way,” and taking just one step. Rachel said she’s learned that “action begets action,” but moved on to “Seven Weeks” before getting too philosophical.

Her cover of Diana Ross’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” was fantastic, especially when the crowd got involved, singing along to the chorus. I couldn’t help but laugh, though, when I noticed Rachel doing the same. This song, as it turns out, is one of those songs that everyone knows but none of us is sure we have the words right, and so when put on the spot, you kind of just hum where lyrics should be. It was a fun moment to witness, anyway. After it, Rachel stopped to tell us a story and admitted that she’s used to “barreling through” her sets as an opener, so she’s gotten good quick stories. Now that she’s headlining, she’s excited to try out some new songs on stage, she said, so she decided to give us a new one from the previous week, called “Slide Projector.” When she said we were only the second group to ever hear it, one guy in the back of the room cheered “yeah!!” prompting Rachel to answer, “Yeah, dude! I like your enthusiasm!” The song was great, although the volume seemed to need a little work: the keys sounded like they were way too loud, and at one point I swear I saw Rachel jump as she tried to sing over it. The smile never leaves her face, though, and when she’d finished she confessed that she was still learning her “new toy.” When another “yeah!” came from the back of the room, Rachel asked if it was the same guy or someone else? Deciding it was the same guy, she said, “I like that guy!”

“Falling into You” came next, a great little ditty I’d never heard before, with a fun electronic breakdown that lead to a bit of MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” which Rachel said made that song “close to Snoop Dogg,” referring to her crowd favorite cover of “Gin & Juice. When she started “A Little Light,” she had a hard time getting serious enough to sing the song, telling us, “don’t make me laugh!” After, she asked Craig to “slow jam the merch,” which he did by singing silly R&B style bits of information about her “sexy merch,” with Rachel ad libbing to add to the fun. When they’d finished, she said, “that was enticing! Admit it, you wanna buy that now, don’t you?”

The next song was “53 Steps,” which Rachel said was about going after something you’re scared to do, telling us to “go do it, you guys! Don’t be scurred!” Coincidentally, the next song was one Rachel said was brand new and that she was scared to do. Peer pressure got to her, though, and when someone shouted “you’re amongst friends!” she seemed to perk up at the thought. “Maybe after this one!” She agreed, asking what our names were. No one answered, at first, and Rachel’s face fell. She was only playing along, but it was cute to see how disappointed she pretended to be when no one offered her any names. She proclaimed herself “so fucking excited” to record this summer, adding “holy balls” for good measure. “Hopefully this song will be on it,” she added as she began “Song of the City,” which mentions San Francisco – or did for this particular performance. Either way, as expected, the crowd cheered at the mention of their city. Rachel’s hit single “1000 Ships” was next, featuring her beat-box again between the chorus and verse.

After shouts out to Madi Diaz and awesome drummer Craig, Rachel tried to end her set but the crowd literally started chanting for an encore. She agreed, of course, to do one more song, saying she felt like she was on a game show. When someone cried out “Justin Bieber!” she laughed and started singing part of “Baby,” before going into her beloved cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice.” She smiled, telling us to “listen closely to these beautiful words,” teaching the lyrics for anyone in the crowd who didn’t already know them, saying “bingo!” when she was done. “Where’s my guy?” she asked. She wanted him to sing the chorus alone, asking him, “are you ready?” He wasn’t. Admitting it was a “terrible idea,” she instead suggested, “let’s all do it together,” and of course the room obliged, exploding into a lovely chorus of the song. Craig did a spoken solo as well, and the song closed as it had begun, with a little bit more of Bieber’s “Baby.”

It was a perfect way to end the show, and a great way to explain who Rachel Platten is: quirky, funny, talented, never whatever it is you expect (unless you’ve seen her). She’s a poppy, catchy Tori Amos with a great sense of humor, a little bit of a dirty mouth, and a gorgeous voice. She’s also the kind of girl you can see again and again and still have a great time, even if she changes nothing in her set (which isn’t usually the case). And that’s what I plan to do!

Stacy Scales

California native. Therapist. Word nerd. Music lover. Linguaphile. Amateur foodie. Basketball junkie. Travel enthusiast.

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