Maggie Rogers is Burning at her New York Show

Seven songs into the set at her electric New York show, Maggie Rogers performs “Retrograde,” one of the best songs off her debut album, Heard It In A Past Life. As she dances across the stage of Hammerstein Ballroom, she sings the lyric, “listening when Stevie says, ‘come out of the darkness,’" a reference to Stevie Nicks’ classic, “Bella Donna.” It’s particularly poignant that night because across town in Brooklyn, Stevie is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making her the first woman to receive the honor twice. Maggie’s only beginning her career, but her show that evening proved she can inspire the same kind of emotional captivation from her crowd that Stevie does, brought out by both of their devotions to the idea that vulnerability is strength in performance.

 

The story of Maggie’s rise to fame has been exhausted by now, but it’s worth mentioning again that only a few years ago she got her start blocks downtown from Hammerstein Ballroom, when she was a student at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. So even though she doesn’t hail from New York, the show was a homecoming, as she’d joyously tell the crowd between songs. That day, Maggie had a lot to be thankful to New York for; “You guys sold out Radio City twice this morning!” she exclaimed, before she burst into a scream, “I’m playing Radio City!” Before she’d grace the Music Hall though, she still had a packed house to perform to that night.

Performance seems totally natural to Maggie, who dances breezily across the stage as if no one’s watching, or rather as if everyone’s watching but she doesn’t have time to mind their opinions when she’s too busy swinging her hair back and forth. It was a perfect choice that “Dancing Queen” played as the lights went down before Maggie walked on, because the first two songs of the set, “Give A Little” and “Burning,” are some of the best songs to uninhibitedly dance to on the record. “Say It” was next -- a comparably quieter (and stand-out) moment on the record, but one that demands a bit of a hip sway as well. After that, she played highlights like “The Knife” (good for dancing and, if you’re feeling it, engagement with the occult), “Dog Years” (good for tearing up from nostalgia and appreciating Maggie’s songwriting skills) and “Overnight” (good to, as Vulture’s Hunter Harris puts it, “walk barefoot + ride in the bed of a pickup truck + 'reconnect with my roots' + listen to someone dramatically lecture me about being proud of where i'm from”).  

 

There were the hits as well of course, including an incredible rendition of Rogers’ breakout “Alaska” with opening act Melanie Faye on guitar (and in pink cowboy hat). “Light On,” Rogers’ recent number one, is a song for her fans, written as she grappled with the direction viral fame seemingly laid out for her. It was an emotional one, being so close to where it all started. “As you can tell,” Rogers said as she explained what the song meant to her, “I’m a person with a lot of feelings.” The standout emotional moment of the night though was “Back In My Body;” the record’s closer and shared title of her 2018 documentary, is about anxiety, and finding comfort in one’s self. It’s striking in a massive room full of people. “Fallingwater” closed out the set, and Rogers’ gave a performance reminiscent of when she played the song powerfully on SNL, barefoot in a flowing red dress. She belted the lyrics like she dances, free of constraint.

Before she left for good, Maggie came back to the stage without her band to sing “Color Song,” a quiet folk record off her 2017 EP. She explained to the crowd that she finds it difficult to come down from the energy of playing a show once it’s over, and asked if we could do it together. She asked for quiet but gave two rules: if you have to sneeze or cough, just do it, and if you need to leave during the song, just don’t. Her request didn’t stop a group in the back near me from loudly conversing, despite the many shushes and polite requests from those nearby. Eventually they stopped though, because kindness and respect prevails in Maggie’s world.