"Get ready for a really sad night," whispers Rachael Yamagata as she sits by her piano. "It's Friday right? You've come to the wrong place."
It was indeed a Friday evening, and the American singer-songwriter was decked out in an all-black outfit, talking to a packed auditorium at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Starting the set with Even So, a piano-backed track from her debut album 11 years ago, it set the mood for the rest of the evening — an intimate ride on a rollercoaster of emotions.
Performing both quiet, can't-hear-anything-else-but-a-pin-drop songs (You Won't Let Me and Happenstance) as well as angry, desperate anthems (Letter Read), Yamagata had the audience in knots, but in a good way. Some were returning fans — and for the sixth time, they hung on to her every word, giggling and scoffing at her silly and self-deprecating anecdotes of past relationships.
Backed by a four-piece band (who teased and taunted each other on stage mercilessly), the crooner played more than 15 selected tracks from all three albums: Happenstance (2004), Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart (2008) and Chesapeake (2011). While the evening started on a sombre note, she had the audience standing and clapping by the fifth song, the love triangle favourite Worn Me Down and, later, singing along to Be Be Your Love, which was written by Yamagata when she was just ten years old.
The only flaw of the night — if we really had to choose — was when the visibly jetlagged artist fumbled on Elephants, the title track off her second album. After three tries, she managed to get the opening piano chords right, only to forget the lyrics after a few lines. However, it was a boo-boo for the better. Deciding to then strip the song down to a rare acappella, she sang it the way it was first written: raw and uninhibited when racing down a mountain in Woodstock years ago.
Yamagata is someone who just sounds better live. With nothing but her vocals searing into the dark hall, you can hear the strain in her voice and almost feel the lump in her throat — a recollection, perhaps, to past lovers who supposedly cheated on her with hookers from Craigslist. A true story, she shares wistfully. And just like that, our hearts went out to her.
Duration: Two hours
Location: Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore
Promoter: Greenhorn Productions