The following is a concert review of Rachael Yamagata's headlining tour at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Va. in September 2008:
Rachael Yamagata is the unsung hero of songwriting today. She proved that point Tuesday night at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria.
It was a full house when the songstress, her family, and various fans from the Washington, D.C. area came to hear her newest tracks.
Yamagata debuted her latest double-album, "Elephants ... Teeth Sinking into Heart" to a sold-out crowd shortly after opening act Kevin Devine.
Fans waited four years for Yamagata's latest studio release, after wearing down their copies of her 2004 release "Happenstance." But it was well worth the wait.
This September stop on her second national headlining tour is the cure for the itch fans have -- new music. Now that the wait is over and she's finally on tour, Yamagata treated her fans to an evening of old favorites mixed-in with her latest musical gems.
"Meet Me By the Water," "Be Be Your Love," and "Worn Me Down," were among the few token Yamagata-classics while the rest of the night was devoted to showcasing Yamagata's growth as a songwriter.
If there was only one song to hear the entire night, it would be safe to say that the title track and first single off of "Elephants" is it. Written after a long day of running up and down the mountains in Woodstock, Ny., Yamagata found serenity and awe in nature, prompting her to write how she felt in that moment. The song, which was originally composed by Yamagata a Capella, featured her now classic lush piano phrasings and cello accompaniment.
Yamagata, who admits she can't believe how easy it was to make a career out of making bad decisions and having her heart broken, has a way of commiserating with people about the most common human condition -- love ... or lack thereof.
Devine does the same. His driving guitar rhythms, often reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan, pay homage to the grassroots-style strumming and song structure of the evening. Devine rocked out as much as anyone can with an acoustic guitar in hand, with a style of reminiscent of Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo.
Besides songwriting, Devine and Yamagata share a passion for the written word. Fans and fellow musicians alike note Yamagata's emphasis on the written word in the forefront of her resonant melodies. Devine sticks true to the Yamagata tradition of storytelling through song, making Devine a solid choice for an opening act.
Yamagata proved that she can play just as hard as the boys during the second half of her set.
Although she's known for her soft, whimsical ballads, Yamagata revved up the room with what she called a couple of "feisty, little, sassy songs." The tracks "Faster" and "Sidedish Friend" are two of five rocking tracks on "Teeth Sinking into Heart" -- which is scheduled for an Oct. 8 release -- and were by far the best performances of the night.
The electric crunch and adrenaline rush of the rockin' jams were the yin to Yamagata's swan song yang, mixing the old and new song styles together for a perfect blend of songwriting gold.
In between conversations with the audience about "Lost" and "The Sopranos," Yamagata found time to bond with family as well. Yamagata celebrated her 31st birthday Tuesday night along side her fraternal twin brother Benjamin. She also closed out her encore set with fan-favorite "The Reason Why," which her grandmother shouted out as a request from across the room.
Exposed piano parts and honest vocals catch the ear's attention, but it's Yamagata's brutally honest lyrics that make her stand out among the rest of the artists writing songs today. "Elephants ... Teeth Sinking into Heart" almost guaranties that Yamagata will no longer go unnoticed.
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