words + photos: Sarah Rix (@sarahrix)
“She floats, she twirls, it’s absolutely captivating and, to top it all off, she sounds amazing…”
Coming to Melbourne on a Thursday night, Rogers was a burst of energy on the Festival Hall stage.
It seems unreasonable to imagine Maggie Rogers doing anything else. Her approach to music and, by default, the accompanying live performance of said music is just so pure and heartfelt that it’d be cruel to try and stop her from having this much fun.
Perth’s Stella Donnelly opened the night with an unassuming but beautifully sincere set. She was pleased to be there, that much was evident – and she has a fan base of her own, too, with audible singalongs coming from the crowd to tracks like “Boys Will Be Boys”.
“You Owe Me”, a song from her 2019 critically acclaimed debut, Beware of the Dogs was dedicated to an ex-boss at a Freemantle pub she used to work at. While she refrained from mentioning the bar name, the second verse painted a vivid picture of it being the type of establishment you never want to find yourself in – Donnelly singing: “You put your great ideas up your nose / then try to tell me where the fuck to go. / You’re jerking off to the CCTV / while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB.” Oof.
You’d probably be onto something if you could bottle Maggie Rogers’ on stage energy and sell it in place of coffee. Her four-piece band walked on stage to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, indicative of the Maryland artist’s stage persona. She floats, she twirls, it’s absolutely captivating and, to top it all off, she sounds amazing.
It’s been about two-and-a-half years since she last played Melbourne – then appearing at the Forum Theatre. Rogers was originally announced to return to the iconic venue (a fitting place for its elegance and charm), before a scheduling conflict changed the plans.
When she found out the Forum was unavailable, Rogers said, they had the option to go to a smaller venue or a larger one. She was optimistic and opted for the sizeable Festival Hall. It was a move that paid off, with approximately 4,000 happy fans buying a ticket.
Throughout her performance, it seemed Rogers was taking time to take it all in. The idea of an audience on the other side of the world singing back all your lyrics is bound to be overwhelming and incredible. She greeted singalongs to tracks like “Dog Years” and “Light On” with a giggle.
“About three years ago to the day, my life changed dramatically,” she told the crowd part-way through an hour long set. She then referenced an awkward appearance on The Project, in which she was repeatedly asked about her (non-)relationship with Pharrell. “And I’ve been all over Australian television, talking about that moment.”
Indeed, Pharrell did help launch her career – but with or without him, “Alaska” is still an undeniable banger and Rogers is incredibly talented.
The thing about Rogers is that she doesn’t write obvious pop music, though she does write bangers. There’s reference points and live, she comes off like a mix of Stevie Nicks and Florence Welch. There’s also disco romps (“The Knife”, from 2019 debut Heard It in a Past Life) and country-leaning twangs (“Back In My Body”). It’s a lot of nuanced vocal work, too, with each note so delicately placed and a voice capable of making these subtle shifts work. Indeed, the only downfall of the venue move was the muddied sound of Festival Hall’s cavernous space.
Ending the main portion of her set with “Falling Water”, the lead 5-minute track from the aforementioned Heard It in a Past Life, Rogers returned for a final crowd-demanded encore.
“After I play, I have a particularly hard time going to sleep,” she told an audience who were now standing at attention. “I’m think we can come down together.”
A final a cappella rendition of “Color Song”, from 2017 EP Now That the Light is Fading was a blissful lullaby with “oooohs” that could very well soundtrack a sad Disney movie montage.
As the lights came up on the crowd for one last time, she gave the Melbourne crowd a simple “see you soon” and floated off stage. An actual dream.