“That is one awesome disco ball,” my nine-year-old daughter, Sidney, said as we both walked into Mission Ballroom in Denver last night to see the captivating 25-year-old singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. A fourth grader in Boulder, Sidney has already seen all kinds of memorable concerts with me, from Poor Moon at the Boulder Theater at age two to Sylvan Esso at the Gothic Theatre at five to Stevie Wonder at Red Rocks earlier this year. She’s also’s seen me play drums at Red Rocks, but spent the whole time begging for permission to play with her friends backstage. So it goes.
Sidney is a discerning young music lover who is obsessed with Billie Eilish and has fallen asleep to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports since birth, so she was pretty tough on Maggie Rogers’ opening act, the indie pop-rock group Now, Now. After a couple of Now, Now’s enjoyable – to me – jangly guitar-driven dance-rock numbers, which sometimes found a sweet spot between ‘80s Madonna and shoegaze, Sidney looked at me and pointed her thumb sideways, her code for “so so.”
“All of their songs sound the same,” she said. I told her I didn’t exactly agree, and the tunes where frontwoman Cacie Dalager picked up a Telecaster really brought Now, Now’s sound to unique and somewhat powerful peaks.
A few songs later, Sidney became more thoughtful and opinionated, whispering “My friend said all songs are about either love or hate, and I don’t think that’s true.”
“Totally,” I said. “Remember that Ween song about a sick little pony coughing up snot in a driveway? Songs can be about anything.”
“Yeah,” she concluded. “But Now, Now’s songs are just about love.”
She made a grumpy face.
Around 9:15pm – on a school night, yes – Maggie Rogers, whose debut album Heard It In A Past Life, dropped earlier this year and has made waves partly because of high-profile admirers such as Barack Obama and Pharrell Williams, began singing “Color Song” behind a huge white curtain.
I jotted down “HER VOICE!” in my notebook, twice. Rogers shines like a younger, more danceable and accessible Feist on Heard It In A Past Life, but in concert her gigantic voice absolutely mesmerizes, and fills any room like a siren.
However, having happened upon the first show of Rogers’ current tour two weeks ago in Portland, I knew something was wrong. Even though it was unable to see Rogers from the other side of the white curtain, the mostly female crowd was going absolutely bonkers as Rogers’ positively skyscraping voice – and empowering lyrics – soared. In Portland, Rogers’ lighting crew played with silhouettes of the singer and her band, to beautiful effect, but as “Color Song” ended all the Denver crowd could see was still the curtain.
“This is too much suspense,” my daughter commented as the song ended and the crowd roared. “I’m getting really bored, like, ‘When is this gonna happen?’”
Suddenly Rogers interrupted the cheering to say that something was indeed wrong and she and her band would start the show over.
“The lighting is so sick and I want you all to see our show how it was intended to be.”
And then she nailed “Color Song” again, with her 20-foot silhouette the corresponding image, before the curtain dropped and the R&B of “Fallingwater” kicked in and Rogers danced ecstatically and continued hitting note after note.
I wrote “HER VOICE!” again.
The brand-sparkling-new 3,950-capacity Mission Ballroom’s audience bounced and sang along, and my daughter turned to me to say, “Papa, there are maybe, like, 100 people out of all of us that are men, including you.”
Then she gave a double thumbs-up when I asked if she liked the music.
As Rogers and her band launched into the funky twisted-love song “The Knife,” Sidney exclaimed, “I’ve heard this song a million times but didn’t know it was Maggie Rogers!” That’s how I felt with nearly every songs the first time I saw Gorillaz.
“Where have you heard this song before?” I asked her.
“Places,” she replied.
9 going on 19.
And then, dealing with a few more very slight technical difficulties, Rogers abruptly stopped the concert, surprising a packed Mission Ballroom, along with her band.
“This is already the weirdest show I’ve ever done,” she said, then remarked, “Please stop yelling at me” to a fan up front. It was respectable, even inspiring, how Rogers began opening up about feeling uncomfortable on stage, at least partly because she “lost someone close” on Sunday.
“I’m just not comfortable, so I’m going to let my band play anything they want for a minute while I go change into jeans and a t-shirt, just to get out of performance mode.”
Her four-piece band (guitar, bass, keys and drums) jammed on the opening notes of Rogers’ 2017 single “Split Stones” for a while until Rogers emerged in a black t-shirt and jeans, a major change from her flowing white gown à la Florence Welch. The music was as energetic, spot-on and urgent as before the abrupt pause in the concert, but the crowd seemed stilted and somewhat dazed.
It was a stunning sequence of events, but reminded me of some lyrics from Rogers’ most beloved song, “Light On”: “I’m vulnerable in oh-so many ways and I’ll never change.”
“Come on, Denver,” Rogers pleaded. “I know it’s Monday, but show me something!”
As the up-tempo synth of “On + Off” (very reminiscent of Sylvan Esso) erupted, so did the audience. Rogers eventually took a moment to delight in telling almost 4,000 people that her drummer had a Tinder date in the building. A rocking version of “Past Life,” reminiscent of Broken Social Scene’s “Sweetest Kill,” followed; it was an impressive new take on a poignant ballad that’s simply vocals and piano on Heard It In A Past Life.
As 10:10pm approached, my daughter told me she was tired but wanted to stay for one more song. “Overnight” – a lyrically potent and softly biting tune from Heard It In A Past Life that the Brits might call a “banger” – was the perfect cap to a fun evening.
As we were leaving, Sidney asked, “Papa, can we listen to Maggie Rogers on the way home?” Later, after she fell asleep to her Brian Eno lullabies, I cleansed my palate with some Motörhead.