Live Review: Maggie Rogers, O2 Academy Leeds, 31st Oct 2022

Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain – believed to be the day when we’re at our closest to the other side, when the spirits of the departed rise and walk the Earth. What a fitting gig then for such a momentous part of the calendar, as there are few artists I know better at raising your spirits than Maggie Rogers. Last I saw her, going in blind and uninitiated to her headline slot at Barn on the Farm 2019, was hands down one of the best sets I’ve ever seen. Gracing the stage with such energy and enthusiasm that she felt like a force of nature, I was left completely bewitched and couldn’t wait to see her again. But wait I did, and one pandemic later the stars aligned for the first date of The Feral Joy Tour to fall on my favourite holiday… spooky!

After donning my best Eddie Munson attire for the evening, I was a little disappointed to see so few people also getting into the Halloween spirit. The odd zombie, vampire and angel were the only ones I could pick out at a glance, but there were more than a few people shimmering like mirrorballs covered in glitter and sequins. Great to see people dressed to party at least, even if they were off-theme. Based on her dance moves, I’d say opening act Samia definitely came to party. From limbs flailing haphazardly and collapsing on the floor in a heap like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, to graceful ballerina posing, she had a thoroughly disarming and quite literal “dance like no one’s watching” vibe. She really felt at home in front of a crowd and had the kind of stage presence you’d expect from a more experienced and established act. Describing her music as sadness with outbursts of joy, her set brought chilled out introspective passages alongside climactic and cathartic hooks that I’m sure earned her plenty of new fans. No notes from me, it felt like I was watching the next big thing. Perfect opener for the evening and an act well worth keeping an eye on!

The stage was set, overflowing with white flowers, ready for Maggie and the band, who emerged wearing sailor outfits for the occasion. Right from the opening of ‘Overdrive’, the energy levels were high. Some acts need studio wizardry to be at their finest and struggle to replicate that sound in the flesh, while for others studio recordings are just a snapshot in captivity of something that’s at its best wild and free. Maggie certainly falls into the latter category; you haven’t truly heard her until you’ve heard her live. Tracks like ‘Want Want’, ‘Shatter’ and ‘That’s Where I Am’ just get turned up to eleven, at their climax each becoming a barely contained maelstrom. Her vocals have only gotten stronger since I last saw her, and although the small stage didn’t afford her much room to dance and twirl, all that extra was channelled into belting out the big notes with the kind of passion most of us could only muster if it was our last night on Earth. 

Rattling through the entirety of her new album Surrender gave us the honour of being the first audience to hear some of the tracks live, including ‘Symphony’, ‘Begging For Rain’ and the spellbinding late-set highlight ‘Anywhere With You’. A few quieter moments left us a chance to get our breath back, but there were just the still in the eye of the storm. ‘I’ve Got A Friend’ saw the band stripped back to an acoustic trio, while the final encore performance of ‘Different Kind of World’ saw Maggie starting out solo as she dedicated the track to a young girl in the crowd. There were still old favourites to be found amongst the new material, from the romantic swell of ‘Love You For a Long Time’, to her breakout hit ‘Alaska’ which saw a slightly reworked arrangement and began a cappella, to the euphoric ‘Light On’ which had the whole crowd jumping for joy. 

Right from when it was first announced as The Feral Joy Tour, I felt like that was the perfect way to describe Maggie’s live performances, and this Halloween spectacular has only strengthened my conviction. We so often keep our emotions bottled up, we so rarely allow ourselves to feel something completely and let it take ahold of us, and the rare times we do it’s usual the darker side, the pain and anger, that takes control. Maggie Rogers just embodies pure unbridled joy when she performs. That scream to the heavens, dance till you drop, smile so much your face hurts kind of energy that seems so rare and precious these days. The kind that grabs you by the scruff of the neck, shakes away all your inhibitions, and sets you loose like a little kid on a sugar high. It’s one of the best live music experiences out there and you can be sure that I’ll be chasing that high again first chance I get!