Before I hit the whack-a-mole with this review, I must admit; I am a gigantic Maggie Rogers fan. If I was on the Titanic and it was sinking, I would want the violinists to play her song light on. If I was stranded in the Sahara Desert miles away from the nearest water source, I would perhaps play Alaska with the last eons of my phone battery (other than maybe calling the authorities if I could, so I might listen to more Maggie Rogers). If I was in a jungle, face to face with a Bengal Tiger, I might play together, in the hope that perhaps the tiger’s heart may find some courage and choose to spare me, like in the book The Life of Pi. The point that I am trying to make is that I am a mammoth, herculean, astronomical fan of her music.
One could say then that on my way to the O2 Academy Bristol to see Maggie’s The Feral Joy Tour, disappointment was imminent. So many times in the past, the concert performances of my favourite artists have failed to match up to their studio performances, in a way that would often leave me disenchanted. If I dislike an artist’s music in a setting most prescribed by the laws of nature then am I really a true fan? or in the same way that Gatsby looked at Daisy Buchanan is my perception of their art corrupted, distorted sugar candy that has no place within any reality. To any observer, this might come across as some kind of phobia, a desperate rally for your mind to not have to settle for less than what you may imagine. But perturbed by an unexpectedly great Delight’s gig that I attended recently I nervously took what felt like a single step forward and arrived at Bristol Temple Meads, about to be pleasantly surprised.
Before I start, I should give a heads-up to Samia, Maggie’s warm-up act for the night. She performed with great vitality and was sonically embraced by the crowd after her performance, neglecting the deer-in-the-headlights imitation that unfortunately affects many young solo artists’ warm-up acts. She was certainly assisted by perhaps one of the most pleasant, enchanting crowds that I have had the pleasure to be a part of. I have not experienced a greater act of selflessness than a group of tall people migrating to the back of the crowd, which was certainly better than the back of the head- I mean gig that I went to the other evening.
Maggie appropriately introduced The Feral Joy set with two of the opening songs from Surrender, her latest album, Overdrive and Want Want. Both songs, notwithstanding as the front line of Maggie’s latest work felt like more of a deliberate choice, an attempt to shake the hand of the euphoric, suspenseful wave that was the crowd’s intensity within this phase. An interesting detail to note was the transformation of the coloured stage lighting throughout the set, which at this point was a sharp, metallic blue. Maggie has mentioned in the past that colours are an incremental part of her creative process, and one cannot help but feel that akin to a novel the use of colours in the set was an inherent act of symbolism on Maggie’s part.
The next phase saw the stage acclimatise into a palatable salmon pink for love you for a long time, a crowd favourite from an older section of Maggie’s oeuvre, perhaps insinuating that this song represents a different phase and a different version of Maggie. The symbolic transformation carried on for Dog Years, in which the energy that was emboldened within Maggie took off with wings, elucidating a metamorphic lyrical quality like Florence Welch or Jessie Buckley. This performance looked like it took an emotional toll and was echoed with rapturous applause from the crowd afterwards.
Throughout the set, Maggie’s musical essence contained a miraculously unrigid fluidity. I could not help but feel like the sound was not vibrating from the stage but was flowing through the acoustics of the auditorium in an effortless form of harmony, in a way that I have not quite experienced at a gig before. Her grandstand track, Alaska (arguably the track which gifted her music career) was provided with a jazzy R&B makeover, perhaps symbolising a sense of personal transformation, a way of Maggie implying that fighting against time is obsolete and we all change, therefore there is no point in defining oneself on the past.
Sometimes going to a gig, or really witnessing any art form can feel like the artists are chucking emotions and ideas at you, almost like a desperate call to say, ‘feel me!’ or ‘realise this’. On the other hand, Maggie Rogers had the vibe of an emotional frisbee – a frisbee that she was tossing back and forth with the crowd for 90 minutes as a form of symbiosis. An interesting comment from Maggie between songs was that she wanted her music to ‘act as an invitation to where you want to go’. I believe that statements such as these show that she perfectly understands her place as an artist, to be a facilitator, and to let her work exist as vessels that we can all bestow our individual meanings and symbols. Like Oscar Wilde said ‘It’s the spectator, not life, that art really mirrors’.
To end on this, I would like to gladly that yes, I am still a ‘mammoth, herculean, astronomical fan of her music’. I did not expect my individual experience to resemble the reading of a novel so closely, and I certainly felt that I was taken on a journey that existed as a form of metaphysical experience. Funnily enough, having monitored Maggie Rogers’ Instagram over the last few days I believe that The Feral Joy tour has had as much of an emotional impact on Maggie as it has us, and it certainly seemed that Maggie was coming to a reckoning over the vast amount of people that love and celebrate her work. I just hope that I am right in suggesting my experience of The Feral Joy Tour meant as much to her as it did to me.