A full moon shone down on South London’s Brixton Academy ahead of Maggie Rogers’ appearance at the iconic venue, the final night of her sold-out UK tour before heading off to Europe.
The 24-year-old’s catapult into the public eye is well documented. An alumna of New York University’s Clive Davis Institute, it was 2016 when producer Pharrell Williams visited. He was visibly stunned and left speechless after hearing the raw version of Alaska, a song Maggie reportedly wrote in 15 minutes, and although she became a viral sensation, she had the enormous talent to back it up. With time since to hone and craft her unique blend of electro-fused folk, she released her major label debut album Heard It In A Past Life in January 2019.
Outside the Academy, the crowd were buzzing, the atmosphere electric as they snapped one last photo of the infamous marquee before swarming through the green-lit dome. Mallrat, Brisbane singer, songwriter and producer Grace Shaw, warmed up the crowd with her own exciting take on electro-pop, hip hop and a little bit of everything else in between. “Whatever your expectations are, they’re too low..” she said on closing, casual words that proved to be prophetic.
It’s always going to be a special gig when the preceding track is ABBA’s Dancing Queen, played at super high volume, and the crowd responds with an even louder, appreciative holler. Maggie stormed onto a perfectly bare stage in insouciant blue jeans, black Harley-Davidson tee and scarlet boots, her long blonde hair swishing around freely. “Come on Brixton!” she yelled, kicking off with Give A Little delivered with a confident, raw vocal and dreamy harmonies.
Leading straight into Burning and masterfully using the stage as her own personal dance floor, Maggie regularly interacted with her four-piece band that congregated in the middle of the stage. Dancing with her drummer, shimmying up against her keyboard player and jamming with her guitarists, it was a full on party and we were all invited.
The Maryland-born musician had just the right amount of interaction with the crowd. She introduced each song with a simple, often sweet narrative; the beautiful but not-at-all-gooey Say It was “a song about having a crush”, Overnight was “about becoming famous overnight” yet this never detracted from the music. Maggie’s beautifully authentic voice has always been impressive, but projected live took on an elevated tone and power. It remained flawless despite the kinetic energy of her performance; gloriously unabashed twirling, dancing and head-banging. The tracks came to life and almost become spiritual and the crowd were mesmerised by her imaginative performance.
Dog Years from 2017’s Now That The Light is Fading EP was the first track of the evening not to derive from the debut album and it’s here that Maggie appeared to feel the full magnitude of her biggest headline show to date. “My emotional levels are high” she admitted breathlessly, the spotlights creating a pebble-effect on the bare stage beneath her, a nod to her love of nature.
She seemed visibly moved that the crowd were shouting the words to Light On, a song that was “even more special tonight”. The crowd had no idea about what magic was to come until Maggie announced “It’s a full moon, we’re in south London, and I’d like to invite on stage my musical big sister and the most powerful witch I know…” before Florence Welch glided on stage to sing the alto. It was a special moment to watch them both dance with each other; arms in the air and powerful voices combined.
The pulsating introduction of On + Off, a previously released track that rightfully took its seat on her debut album, sent the crowd into a rapturous state and it was delivered note-perfectly. Alaska, the track that took Pharrell’s words and breath away, remains effervescent and the recorded wilderness sounds, disco beats and electro synths are even more animated live.
For her performance of The Knife, the stage was momentarily plunged into darkness with just a yellow beam to illuminate the musicians. Retrograde with it’s slightly more mellow vibe provided a momentary breather, although the charged audience are in no way less receptive to the track with its infectious hook and harmonies. A red stetson adorned with the words ‘Witchy Feminist Rock Star’ was tossed from the crowd, which Maggie wears for a lovely cover of Taylor Swift’s 2006’s debut Tim McGraw.
London has always been an influence for Maggie, and before Back In My Body closed the main part of the show with it’s opening line “I was stopped in London when I felt it coming down…”, she remarked how the capital had played a huge part in her life for the past few years. Recounting an earlier show at London Bridge’s Omeara, she remembered her younger self feeling panicked about being far away in a different country. “I wish I could give that girl a hug and show her this..” she said before launching into her love letter to London.
For the encore, Maggie commanded silence and implored everyone to “take a breath” as she performed a soaring, a cappella version of Past Life with her band nestled around her. It was sung with such clarity and beauty, the effect otherworldly.
“Thanks so much for being here. This is my last song, see you soon…” said Maggie before the thumping percussion beat of Fallingwater rang out. With her rousing but mellifluous vocals and a crowd who hung on her every word, clapping and singing along and effectively becoming her choir, the track became anthemic.
The house lights sadly came on, but in what has become Maggie’s signature closing gift, Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody happily played out loud.
Brixton stayed on for the after party to dance, sing and celebrate life, music and the gift that is Maggie Rogers. A spirited, arresting performance from the most fantastic witchy feminist rock star around.
Live review of Maggie Rogers @ Brixton Academy by Nicola Greenbrook on 19th February 2019. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.