Review: Maggie Rogers Kicks the Aragon into Maximum Overdrive
I can’t recall the last time I’ve been to such a large venue like the Aragon for a sold-out show. Walking around after Del Water Gap finished his set is when it suddenly hit me that the Aragon could possibly be approved for statehood with this many people. It. Was. Shocking. However, this is coming from some crotchety old 25-year-old who mostly frequents shows that cap at around 300 so this shock makes sense really, and in all honesty, Maggie Rogers deserved all of this and more; she is a spectacle to be reckoned with, pure and simple. I’ve been a fan of hers since around 2019 and she is absolutely one of my favorite artists that call this planet home. Heard It In A Past Life is indie-pop perfection and simply one of the greatest debut albums ever recorded. Its follow-up, Surrender, is an even more jaw-dropping exploration of emotional and mental maturity that deserves nothing short of a museum exhibition to show off all the meticulous written sounds, instrumentation, and lyrics contained within its walls. I was looking forward to the show Friday night to put it lightly, and having such a close friend as Del Water Gap opening for her made me even more excited about how personal the show was bound to be.
Most of my musical knowledge of Del Water Gap came just days before the show as I was trying frantically to catch up with all his music. His self-titled debut album didn’t necessarily slip past my radar when it came out in 2021 but I just never got around to checking it out until recently. Unsurprisingly, it slaps as much at home as it does live. Holden Jaffe, known professionally by his stage name of Del Water Gap, ran onto the stage in his white winter tank top immediately diving into the subtle yet emotionally poignant “Hurting Kind”, a highlight taken from his 2021 album. That song as an opener came as a surprise to me as it’s not one of his more upbeat songs that you’d think would work as an opener but upon further analysis, he probably did that so the next song, “Better Than I Know Myself”, would hit even harder.
He bopped between many tracks from his debut including a glistening performance of the lavish indie-pop wonderland of “Perfume”, played a new song from his upcoming second album (release date TBD), and even performed a passionate cover of the ultimate Avril Lavigne (his self-proclaimed favorite pop artist second only to Maggie, of course) classic, “Complicated”. He closed with his biggest hit so far, the Bleachers-soaked “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat”, a song from his debut that permanently sets up shop in your brain rushing into the ears like a rabid raging river unbound by space and time. Ever since the first time I heard it a week ago, I’ve become a serious Del Water Gap addict.
Speaking of raging rivers unbound by space and time… Maggie Rogers, anyone? Isn’t she just the greatest? The way she announced herself, angelically cascading down the steps of her flowery stage to the fledgling sounds of “Overdrive”, the opening track to her 2022 album, Surrender, was simply a thing of beauty almost too rich to behold; everyone, and I mean everyone, was losing their minds. Having kept up to date on her Instagram posts, I knew going into the concert that she would be performing Surrender in its entirety and as someone who considers it easily be in the top 3 albums of 2022, you could say I was somewhat head-over-heels.
After “Overdrive”, Maggie and Co. burst into “Want Want”, one of her most energetic songs to date. The track stands as a perfect example of what makes her newest album a perfect follow-up to her debut. The song showcases a continuation of what everyone adored musically about Heard It In A Past Life but with a sound that is so much more mature and diverse carried by a voice that is light-years more rich and expansive in its timbre. I could simply go on and give a track-by-track analysis of her setlist because each one was just one highlight after the next but let’s continue with the ones that affected me the most.
Surrender was the soundtrack to a very special time in my life last summer and thus, hearing songs like the dark and dusty country romance of “Horses”, the overflowing unconditional love of “That’s Where I Am”, and the stubborn, unyielding connection of “Anywhere With You” hit me a little too hard in a way that only me and one other person could possibly understand. Moving away from the songs of hers I hold personally dear, tracks like “On + Off”, “Love You For A Long Time”, and especially “Light On” absolutely killed it live, bursting with an energy that definitely endangered the structural integrity of the venue itself.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautifully nostalgic duet performance she had with Del Water Gap of a song called “New Song” that they wrote when they were both 18-year-old students at NYU. Maggie released the song and many others on a compilation record in 2020 called Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 and it was the unanimous highlight of the album and honestly a requirement for this tour if fan riots were desired to be avoided. Maggie closed out the night with a bittersweet yet hopeful performance of “Different Kind of World”, the final track of Surrender. One could make subjective arguments for a different, more bombastic track to wrap up the night, but they’d all be objectively wrong; it was a perfect end to a perfect performance.
Not even all the extraneous and absolutely unwanted side conversations happening all around me could have prevented me from having the absolute time of my life watching Maggie Rogers completely decimate the Aragon Ballroom. Her performance Friday night was one of the best I’ve seen from any artist and I couldn’t have been more blessed to have gotten the chance to see her in a venue smaller than an arena before it’s too late. During his set, Del Water Gap revealed the only reason he’s onstage is actually because of Maggie. He said he was always very nervous about performing his songs for a crowd and only got up the nerve to do it after Maggie asked him if he would at least play his songs live with her. Nothing makes a show sweeter as a fan than knowing the artists on stage genuinely love and trust each other as much as you would hope they do. As for Chicago, I think we’ll all be loving on Maggie for a long, long time.