Rachael Yamagata is one of those musicians nearly everyone has heard but who often won’t be spotted in a crowd. An accomplished independent singer and songwriter who doesn’t have all the fame or notoriety attached to her name, Yamagata’s performed for President Obama and the First Lady and had her music featured in many of the television shows and films we all watch. However, her trip to Minneapolis on Friday, October 7, began like usual: under the radar.
She climbed out of the tour bus that she rented—using her American Express card—and entered the Triple Rock Social Club, virtually anonymous. She walked casually through the club while supporting group Pressing Strings performed, having not bathed in two days, wearing her winter jacket and jeans. Once on stage herself, coughing a little between songs, it was evident Yamagata was a bit under the weather—she was not quite able to feature the range she frequently showcases. However, she was a true pro, compensating as she went along, utilizing her rich, soulful, and husky pipes. By the end of the night, she had battled through her set with dynamic, intense, and fun energy. She often used song breaks to chat with the the crowd, posing for selfies during songs with audience members and even climbing off the stage to dance in the pit.
Midway through her set, Yamagata had her band, including My Name Is You musicians Brandon Walters on bass and Anne Williams on keyboards, clear the stage to summon vocalist Jordan Sokel from Pressing Strings, much to Sokel’s surprise. The two performed a duet that they had never performed or even rehearsed before. They often paused, mainly so that Yamagata could heckle Sokel as he tried to find a balance between blushing and reading the handwritten lyric sheet at his feet.
Before ending the set, Yamagata unloaded, performing an intense cover of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” that was faithful to the original recording while also showcasing her abilities with a commanding presence. The crowd couldn’t get enough and promptly got the singer-songwriter and her cohort to come back onstage and give everyone an encore.
For Yamagata, an artist formerly attached to RCA and Warner Bros. Records who has a wealth of experience and had success with four different album releases and five EPs, Friday wound up being a challenging night that showcased the power of live music while also reminding audiences no two sets—or audiences—are the exact same. Tempers flared during an encore performance of “Elephants,” one of Yamagata’s signature songs from her second album, Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking into Heart. A group of people in the back of the club were being extremely loud, interrupting a song that requires pauses and moments of silence with somber energy to drive its point home. Yamagata fans from the front of the pit further interrupted the musician, pleading for the loud talkers to shut up so that everyone could enjoy the encore. The outburst left Yamagata laughing while she reminded everyone that they were there to support live music and that anything could happen during a show.
Ultimately, Yamagata’s positive energy and relaxed presence prevailed, and she and her band had a successful return to Minneapolis, having last played the same venue on October 17 last year. Graceful and elegant, she powered through much of her newest album, Tightrope Walker, which was released independently through her personal label, Frankenfish, earlier this year. Yamagata’s previous show at the Triple Rock had been to support the same album, as it was initially slated to come out in late 2015 to early 2016, but she faced logistical challenges as she brought her independent release to the masses.
Other than Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking into Heart, Yamagata’s previous albums are Chesapeake and Happenstance. Her music has been prominently featured on television, including in shows ER, The OC, Smallville, How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy, and NCIS: New Orleans. Her songs have also been used in several films, including in Elizabethtown and Definitely, Maybe. Originally the vocalist for Chicago-based Bumpus, she left the group to pursue a solo career in 2001.