Maggie Rogers stands onstage alone, acoustic guitar in hand, to begin her encore at Austin’s Moody Theater. In a heartfelt speech about gratitude, Rogers thanks the 24 people who worked on the set and lighting, and the fans who brought her music to light. She has barely been home in three years, thanks to her tour schedule, and she feels “disoriented” when she hears the studio versions of her songs after developing them on the road. The crowd is standing and their appreciation is deafening; so loud that Rogers has to pause, and so enduring that she has to try and talk over them, anyway. In a precious moment of silence, a voice from the back shouts, “free the nips!”
“Shut the fuck up,” says Rogers, incredulously.
She starts to go on, but backtracks.
“I feel really, like, uncomfortable,” she says.
The 25-year-old alone in the spotlight works through a few feelings out loud while sections of the audience compete, chanting “kick him out!” and hissing for silence so Rogers can make a statement. Another deep voice calls out, “You cute, though.”
Rogers finishes her speech, the way it was written, it sounds. It’s hard to tell if the delivery is stiff or resilient. It’s hard to tell if the dead silence of the crowd is reverent, expectant or mortified. “This stage is a privilege…and it is one I don’t take lightly,” she says.
In 2016 a video circulated of Rogers as a student in another moment of vulnerability that catapulted her career. The emerging songwriter sat next to Pharrell Williams in a class workshop, and nervously nodded along to her own music, the soon-to-be hit, “Alaska.” Williams fidgeted in increasing disbelief as the song went on, and opened his critique—or lack thereof—with “I have zero, zero, zero notes for that.”
It seems like a strange choice to alter anything Pharrell Williams declared beyond criticism, but Rogers wrapped up her ACL Live performance with a solo acoustic rendition of that same electronic breakout hit. She explained she wanted the song to be experienced as she wrote it, and delivered a drawn-out, nearly arhythmic folk lament. She hit one lyric especially hard, to explosive applause: “Learned to talk and say whatever I wanted to.” Despite a strong vocal performance, Rogers played a few guitar flubs, doubtless due to nerves. Immediately upon hitting the last note, she fled the stage.
This particular performance (not just Rogers, and not just her indignant fans) deserved a much grander ending. Every prior moment was pure musical professionalism. A gigantic white sheet greeted the audience at the beginning of the set, strobe lights casting silhouettes for the first song, a floating folk melody over electronic drones and the sound of crickets. Rogers posed behind it like the wonderful Wizard of Oz, visible to some spectators from the sides of the stage. When the curtain dropped, she launched into one of her most infectious songs, “Fallingwater” with a gut-punching first note, belted high and full. Rogers, who mentioned German house music as an inspiration in her excellent Song Exploder episode, dances naturally and could barely be contained in stiller moments. Somehow, even running from one end of the triple tiered stage to the other, Rogers maintains excellent control and her singing rarely faltered. All the same could be said for Robyn’s spectacular headlining performance at Austin City Limits Music Festival the weekend before. The sheet, used for the opening of both sets, invites a (probably) accidental but apt comparison between two dance music artists a generation apart and hopefully on the same massively successful path.
Walking out of the Moody Theater, every conversation to be overheard was about The Interruption. A man on the mezzanine wandered out after the house lights abruptly came on. “I’m sad that it ended that way,” he said. “That bugs me.” On the floor below, near the entrance, a girl tearfully nodded to three supportive friends. For blocks, concertgoers raged to each other in the singer’s defense. An event as small as a lame and badly-timed joke rippled through the 2,750-person concert hall and landed on the shoulders of one girl holding an acoustic guitar. Fans surely sang “Alaska” on the car ride home, as I did, until my throat hurt as hers must have when finding the words to push past humiliation. Did Rogers rushing offstage give the voice power? Maybe, but the power of a genuine reaction onstage is much bigger, and the same vulnerability that stole Maggie’s brave face gives us her beautifully brave dance music.
“We create that space for each other,” Rogers said just before her final song. “Don’t forget that.”
There was a lot more to Maggie Rogers’ two shows in Texas. Read the full review I wrote for Austin101 for more highlights.
Header photo from Maggie Rogers on Instagram.