Before Maggie Rogers took the stage at Webster Hall on 28th July, the crowd, dressed nearly all in white, might have looked like a cult. To an observer, the sea of white may have aroused suspicion in a political climate where mobilized factions might suggest danger. Alternatively, almost everyone wearing the same color in a nearly 1,500-person-capacity venue might imply a yearning for community after years of separation. Rogers would address all these points – the audience’s abnormal appearance, the often terrifying state of the world, and what it means to return to and rebuild a life after lockdown – before the night was out.
In truth, when announcing the show on her Instagram page, Rogers requested “everyone in the audience wear white… [which] is a historic symbol of surrender. It represents a willingness to give in or let go.” That is the dominant theme of Roger’s sophomore record, Surrender, the release of which gave the Webster Hall show a ballistic pulse. It had been over three years since an eager fan base had received Rogers’ debut album, a project that arrived after her world was turned completely upside down by a viral moment where producer Pharrell Williams gave her “zero, zero notes” on a track she created as an NYU undergrad student.
The concert, which had no opening act, sparked to life with Surrender‘s first track, “Overdrive”. Rogers remained offstage as her band, washed in crisp blue light, powered up the song’s introduction. Rogers had teased the track (along with most of the album’s others) on TikTok. Still, the lyrics were largely unknown to the crowd, who would have to wait another agonizing 45 minutes after the concert’s conclusion to replay their favorites on streaming services. That did little to stop the visceral outpouring of glee when Rogers finally ran on stage dressed in an oversized retro Knicks jersey (away, mostly white). Many fans caught onto snippets of the words by the final reprise of the chorus, where Rogers belted, “Now I’m in overdrive, oh, put me in overdrive.”
Next came “That’s Where I Am” and “Want Want”, Surrender‘s first two singles, released in April and June. The crowd didn’t disappoint when given a chance to sing along, unleashing a fervor that left many drenched in end-of-concert levels of sweat within the show’s first quarter-hour. Amid uproarious applause following the three staccato notes at the end of “Want Want”, Rogers sheepishly concluded: “So those are the first three songs on the album.” Already deafening cheers magnified.
For the rest of the evening, Rogers deviated from the order of Surrender’s tracklist, opting for both fan favorites and deep cuts from her first album, critically-acclaimed Heard It in a Past Life. At times, Rogers even strayed from her printed setlist. After delivering an impeccable vocal rendition of one of Past Life’s most fan-beloved tracks, “Light On”, Rogers retreated several steps behind her microphone, overwhelmed. What appeared to be just a brief moment to catch her breath stretched longer and longer. Obviously, this was something else, and fans rallied to shout their support. A friend I attended with remarked, “Aw, she’s having a moment!”
She was. After several deep breaths, Rogers apologized for her “disjointed” show, but the swell of screams suggested either the crowd’s disagreement or lack of concern. Regardless, Rogers explained part of the trouble was due to her bass player’s unexpected absence (he’d tested positive for COVID, though Rogers noted she and the rest of her band had not). But another aspect of the difficulty, she observed, was the sheer emotion of what she was performing. “It takes my whole body to sing these songs,” she admitted, seemingly near tears. Rogers quickly coordinated a setlist change with her bandmates. Fans’ cheers never wavered as Rogers swapped one guitar for another and launched into Surrender’s tenth track, “Honey”, the only song on the album she wrote during her recent time at Harvard, where she earned a Masters in Religion and Public Life.
The show continued oscillating between feel-good favorites like the single “Love You for a Long Time” and Surrender tracks with considerably more bite. “Shatter” exploded into life with jagged guitar riffs reminiscent of 1970s underground punk shows. As fans thrashed and writhed in unbridled ecstasy, Rogers bellowed, “I don’t really care if it nearly kills me / I’d give you the world if you asked me to / I could break a glass just to watch it shatter / I’d do anything just to feel with you.”
Creating space to honor intense feelings was, it appeared, the goal of this performance and Rogers achieved it. Everything from the transparency regarding her bass player and unexpected setlist changes to the facial expressions clearly advertising her occasional nerves or embarrassment suggested a quality few major pop performers possess: respect for process over product. Rogers displayed no discomfort pulling back the curtain, at times to comedic effect: “So I’m gonna play a few more songs and then pretend like I’m done, then come back and play again,” she quipped before the show’s finale.
When she returned for an encore, Rogers bluntly stated she was going to talk “for three to five minutes”. She admitted that on her previous tour, there were often times when she would feel numb at the end of shows. “Tonight,” she countered, “I feel really presently like a person, and I feel incredibly raw. … It’s not a perfect performance, but I find so much perfection in the imperfection.” The audible lump in Rogers’ throat and the glisten in her eyes gave Webster Hall the breathless atmosphere of a confessional. After acknowledging the prevailing uncertainty of the times (“We’re coming back to the world pre-pandemic, post-pandemic, next-pandemic, whatever the fuck it is… everyone get a monkey pox vax.”), Rogers concluded, “To be able to sit in a room where all of us have worn a color to come together, even if it is kind of culty, it’s more about what surrender means, which is giving into all these feelings, and I’ve been, like, a lightning rod of feeling all night, for better or for worse. And, uh, to me … feeling all of these things means that I’m alive, and feeling that fullness of humanity in a moment where our world outside feels more and more terrifying by the day, that’s the only way I know how to find hope. And that, to me, is the thing that keeps me alive.”
Rogers then introduced and performed Surrender’s closing track, “A Different Kind of World”. The song’s crowning jewel is its desperate, howling peak, which is sandwiched between Rogers’ tender delivery of slow, crooning vocals accompanied solely by her acoustic guitar. She sounded as if she was singing to her friends in her living room rather than in her first NYC show in nearly three years.
Before they dispersed, Rogers and her bandmates threw hundreds of flowers (daisies – again, white!) into the audience. Fans who caught them did so with glowing expressions of adoration, though perhaps what I interpreted as shine was just sweat. Then again, Rogers might say that such exertion in the name of music is one of the holiest things we have left. The chatter as everyone disbanded into the sweet summer night was buzzing with what I can only describe as a phrase Rogers has often used regarding the album: “feral joy”. Even if fans had arrived intending to surrender, they all left feeling that the battle was won.