It's been quite a while since Rachael Yamagata took the stage at Schubas - a small neighborhood bar on Chicago's North side that routinely books some of the best new bands on the national touring circuit. Rachael had held a residency at the club last year, hosting a series of label showcases that would eventually lead to her first major label signing. She had been back in Chicago once since being swept away in the hustle and bustle of recording her first album. A far cry from the intimate club dates she was accustomed to, she was suddenly opening for David Gray at the UIC Pavilion. I've been a fan of Rachael's since her days as part of the Chicago-based funk/soul band Bumpus, and while I was able to catch her at a BMG showcase gig at the Bowery in NYC over the summer, last Friday's Schubas show was quite an exciting event.
Rachael took the stage close to midnight, after a set from tour partner, the always charming, professional, and good spirited Swede, Sondre Lerche. Lerche's performance was just as amazing as the last time I saw him. He played a few new songs from his forthcoming album (he thinks it will come out in March or April) as well as many from his debut, Faces Down. This kid is truly amazing. I don't think he's old enough to drink, and he's cranking out insightful, inspiring, mature and deeply personal songs that could appeal to a number of audiences. Sadly, a few fucking yuppie assholes at Schubas on Friday were not one of them. While the front half of the room was mesmerized by Sondre's set, a number of disrespectful pricks in the back half thought it'd be a good place to try to pick up chicks and talk about how many beers they've had. I have literally never heard as much chatter from the crowd as I did during Sondre's set, and it basically ruined it. It was embarrassing, but not for Sondre, because he didn't miss a beat. Thankfully (I guess), all of those assholes were apparently there to see Rachael, and kept their damn mouths shut during her half of the show.
Rachael was accompanied on stage by former bandmate, James Johnston of Bumpus, who helped with acoustic guitar and backing vocals. The two sounded great together just as they always have, and the slow, extremely personal and heartfelt songs she belted out sounded absolutely fantastic. Between songs she would banter a bit, telling stories about the recording process in NYC, burning a pizza to the point of petrification, and about various conversations she's had with her label peeps and how she's had to learn to listen to critiques of her performances, attitude, etc. There was a level of comfort there for her, as many of the faces in the audience have been with her from the beginning. Countless times, she looked out into the crowd and said "HI!" to old friends and fans she recognized. Her new songs were impressive and older songs, like "Would You Please/These Girls," brought back memories. I saw many in the crowd singing quietly along to the words (except for this girl standing behind me who was singing, but not quietly - or well).
This could have very well been the last time Rachael will play such a small room in Chicago, and I was thankful to have been there. If you haven't yet, check out the Rachael Yamagata EP. It sounds somewhere between Beth Orton and Fiona Apple and it's definitely worth the sticker price.