Rachel Yamagata

by Mario Martin
November 2004

Rachel Yamagata

Rachel Yamagata

Some of the most eclectic musicians have hit stage at Shank Hall. Garbage played their second show ever at the venue and managed to play so loud they blew a few amps. In the audience were a handful of Butch Vig fanatics that comprised most of the roughly 50-person audience. Alanis Morrissette also played the stage (with then drummer Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters) before her sold out arena tours. Many more preceded and many more followed. Rachael Yamagata is soon to be in the same echelon as these artists.

A quiet setting surrounding the venue produces the right mood and atmosphere from the last time Rachael performed in Milwaukee at The Rave (opening for Gomez). Subtle yet inviting, Shank Hall’s sound system and décor remain the eye-candy while inside the club, as the feel and anticipation peak for opener Tom McRae after Cameron McGill’s Damien Rice-like crooning.

McRae’s most recent outing, Just Like Blood (Nettwerk) has served as a reassessment of music in the singer/songwriter genre as its popularity has surpassed his previous record which garnered him much acclaim. McRae even received the nomination for the Mercury Music Prize for his self-titled debut in 2001. Often compared to Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, McRae stands tall on his own laurels and gifts the audience a piece of his own self. Regardless the prestige of the nods by the press and even within the industry, McRae remains a humble figure accompanied by his guitar and his lovelorn voice that belt out some of the darkest lyrics a singer sedated by his craft can fathom.

Following a silencing set provided by McRae, the crowd awaits the Midwest’s prodigal daughter to hit the stage with the rasp and raw voice Milwaukee has waited for since seeing her performing at clubs and bars years ago. Rachael Yamagata might not have started out seeing her name on marquees, yet she is a familiar voice in the city of Milwaukee since having been, what many believe, the best part about the Chicago-based band, Bumpus.

A mixture of funk, blues and pop, Bumpus was a sub-par band at best. The instrumentation might have been commendable, yet the performances were a muddied mess of soulless noise that was saved every so often when Rachael would take center stage for the best songs the band had to offer, while bringing the gazing onlookers closer into rapture by her muse-like voice. While the entire audience would stand there mesmerized, the same thought seemed to enter everyone’s minds: Why isn’t she singing solo? Enter a major record contract.

After playing with Bumpus for a handful of years and showcasing her massive talents, Rachael landed a deal with Arista Records’ Private Music label where she made the splash in the industry with her self-titled EP and later toured on it. Now, after having released her first full-length solo record, Happenstance (RCA), Rachael Yamagata returns to the road to bedazzle those who lend just one ear to her incantations and croons. The power to turn the public into immediate legions of fans is what Rachael Yamagata does; and she does it well.

Within the confines of Shank Hall though, Yamagata belts out some of the most heartfelt songs that surely sent chills up many spines and almost bringing the hushed (done literally by staff) crowd to tears. Fiercely banging on piano keys and gruffly rasping through lyrics of heartache and sorrow, Yamagata remained a star in the lights and lady in life.

When most shows of this genre take place, the mood set is one that can usually be cut with a knife like tension. Rachael Yamagata’s banter in between songs usually lightens the heavy topics covered in her music, but you still wonder how it affects her deep inside. Anytime that Shank Hall is transformed into a vehicle for channeling a muse like Rachael Yamagata, the onlookers are the true winners watching a special talent at work.

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