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Concert review: Rachael Yamagata

SINGAPORE - Friday night saw the enigmatic “queen of heartbreak”, American singer Rachael Yamagata, perform her sixth Singapore concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall and the venue was a near full house with excited fans.

Concert review: Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata giving it her all at the Esplanade on Friday night. Photo: Joanna Kwa

SINGAPORE - Friday night saw the enigmatic “queen of heartbreak”, American singer Rachael Yamagata, perform her sixth Singapore concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall and the venue was a near full house with excited fans.

There was good reason for this. At her last performance in Singapore for instance, Yamagata sang an impromptu duet with Shirlyn Tan, frontwoman of local cover band The UnXpected, who had earlier emailed the American musician that she would be coming to her show. The Singaporean was singled out by Yamagata to join her up on stage to sing The Reason Why; and the surprise finale brought a roar of approval from the delighted crowd.

As loyal fan Gerard Yeo - he has been to all of Yamagata’s concerts in Singapore, as well as a few gigs overseas - shared, “In recent years, she’s been more open to the crowd.” Needless to say, many fans were wondering how Yamagata would up the ante with her performance this year.

Dressed in black with her long dark hair iconically parted in the middle, the unassuming 37-year-old’s easy charm soon got the audience cheering loudly, especially once Yamagata took her place at the piano and started a soulful rendition of Even So. With her inimitable husky, hypnotic vocals that quietly exuded feminine strength and rage, alongside smoky glimpses of vulnerability, pining and sorrow; Yamagata brought her enraptured audience along on a sonant musical rollercoaster ride of raw human emotions, giving many - not just this writer - goosebumps (in a very good way).

Taking introspective moments between songs to share how some lyrics came about, a contemplative Yamagata let the audience take a peek into her life. For instance, she shared how, instead of the typical party lifestyle that one might associated with musicians or celebrities in Los Angeles, she chose to live alone in the woods with only animals for company (she said she could go for weeks without speaking to another human, leading her to often ask her cats for their opinion on the new music she was working on).

She also talked about how the heart-wrenching betrayal by her two-timing lover and her good friend had inspired the poignant prose for the haunting track, Elephants; that huge fan favourite that Yamagata sang, alone on stage, without any music accompaniment. It was in stark, dramatic contrast to the rest of the evening’s proceedings that resulted in vociferous reaction from an appreciative audience. Yamagata’s humour showed on stage too, when she interacted with the audience and her rollicking four-piece band.

Singing 15 songs that celebrated the human condition and the imperfections of relationships, Yamagata’s performance radiated truth and humanity, which would probably explain her global following of loyal fans. The fact that the contemporary singer-songwriter had no trouble singing - Yamagata’s voice alone was strong enough to carry the show - there was certainly no need for fancy theatrics or sexy costumes to get things going.

After the concert ended (a good half an hour later than intended), Yamagata generously gifted her time and presence for more than two hours at the post-show meet-and-greet, as fans sought autographs and selfies (or wefies) with her. Rachael Yamagata may have rejected the illusionary glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but that clearly hasn’t dampened the ardour of her fans, for whom her luminescent talent is clearly the real deal.

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