In Review: James Michael Rodgers at Toast Hawaii

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Scottish folk singer James Michael Rodgers put together a rabble-rousing show to celebrate the release of his new single.

To celebrate the release of ‘Shattered Image of You’, James Michael Rodgers invited the bulk of the Berlin folk scene to join him in Toast Hawaii for a party last Wednesday. It felt from the start like a cosy evening with a good turnout and convivial atmosphere. There were a number of faces recognisable from the weekly Neulich Sessions near Boddinstrasse, run by James and the Hypochondriacts. Its testament to Rodgers’ popularity that I met four people I knew but didn’t know were fans of his. It’s no mean feat to become such a fixture of the Berlin music scene.

Rodgers could scarcely have found a better opening act than Vera. The Berlin-based singer-songwriter brought a sensitivity to her performance that awed and hushed the crowd. Her empathetic manner on stage and beautiful voice were reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell. Her set included original songs from her 2018 ‘Fragile’ EP as well as a cover of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Be and Be Not Afraid’. She seemed genuinely delighted by the warm reaction from the crowd as her set drew to a close. It was evident on this showing why she has become a regular at Berlin institutions such as Kindl Stuben.

James Michael Rodgers took to the stage solo, with a few words of greeting and the promise that “it’ll start off depressing but get better as we go on”. Proselytising between songs like a beer-soaked folky Jesus, he built an immediate rapport with the crowd. During an early number the stage was flooded with smoke. “I’m like Kate Bush”, Rodgers quipped to laughter, without missing a beat. His easy way with the crowd didn’t detract from his not inconsiderable musical talents. As well as being an accomplished guitarist, Rodgers is blessed with a voice that gives his more heartfelt songs an anguished howl and more than fills the room.

After a handful of songs he welcomed up the rest of the Hypochondriacts, the band he regularly plays with, to the stage. For the evening they were supplemented by Vera on backing vocals and Orkan Turkmen from the Mojos on the synth. The band were kitted out in shades and altogether more sharply dressed than might be expected of a folk outfit. As promised, the evening took a turn for the raucous with the band’s arrival. Despite the cramped stage they settled immediately into a groove and ran through a number of more upbeat songs, including ‘Shores of my Youth’ and the reason we were all there, ‘Shattered Image of You’.

The new single recalls Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, musically and lyrically, with Rodgers expounding a tale of heartache and moving on that harks back to his time spent in Glasgow. Where the recorded single, available here, is bolstered by trumpet and fiddle, here it was slightly more stripped back but no less powerful for it. The refrain is a delightful ear worm and was echoed by a number of the crowd. “Acoustic music can be fun” shouts Rodgers afterwards to cheers and indeed he made a strong case for that being true. With one last song the whole gang departed the stage to an ovation from the crowd.

With a palpable feeling of unfinished business, it was no surprise when Rodgers took once again to the stage. He does so to music through the PA, which he promptly asks to be “turned the fuck off”. Rodgers fields requests for a songs, settles on ‘Shame to Be Alive’ and launched into the manic number. During the song two Hypochondriacts rejoined the stage and joined in. Their late and disjointed arrival spoke to the slightly ramshackle feel of the evening, improvised and just about holding together and all the more genuine and warm for it. With another round of thanks and applause, Rodgers left the stage for the last time. The show had been a triumphant one, a testament to the burgeoning folk scene in Berlin and to the people who make it so exciting.

James Michael Rodgers’ tour dates can be found here and his new single is available from his Bandcamp.

A Scottish troubadour, scientist, writer. Jack of few trades.

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