Upon a dimly lit stage James Michael Rodgers sits with a shy smile and a sudden laugh, incense smoke burning atop his guitar before curling into emptiness.
Where does the smoke go? It is intangible, like the words contained within his journal that sits aside him, yet like those words; it is deeply felt throughout the room, stirring the audience into a trance-like reverence.
“This is giving me lung cancer,” he proclaims, earning a few laughs before ‘Shattered Image of You’ commences.
Accompanied by Calum Calderwood on violin and Sophie Sexon on flute, Rodgers delivers the songs in a narrative style of spiritual journey.
Having lived in Sicily and Berlin, he has returned to Glasgow with one thousand epiphanies, delivering a ritualistic exorcism of his own hopes and fears.
The songs are often rife with doomed characters; whether that be in his search for a sense of personal Utopia in ‘Land of the Weak’ or his rejection of conventional middle-class excess in ‘Shame to be Alive’ – “build a house just so you can decorate?” yet they also hold a romantic idealism that poetically shatters the insincerity of misled intimacy attributed to a white guy playing an acoustic guitar.
“We made love like I was born inside her,” he screams like a strangled banshee invoking Mother Nature on the psychedelic-tinged ‘Shores of My Youth’.
Rodgers’ use of divine language and his vision of love as two-intertwined souls are not far removed from the Navajo notion of transformation, wherein gender is incompatible between the ontological surface and the two-spirit world.
Like a shaman conjuring spirits, he has a remarkable sense of patience on ‘Closer to You’, the highlight of the night, whereby he hangs over words and creates an unexpected space before uttering the following line.
It feels similar to someone unexpectedly answering the phone on the very last ring.
Despite the numbing glaze of silence that the audience contemplates, there is a deafening after-clap that follows.
The support act Dean Robinson colours the night with tunes laced with immediate adoration from the crowd, his melodies and chord structures are as inventive as early Sufjan Stevens, and his lyrics packed with innocent gestures about his mother’s home-cooking and breezing past “the emptiness between the trees”.
Robinson, accompanied by Seb Lim-Seet on cello and Toby Goodwin on djembe, eventually joins Rodgers on stage halfway through the headline set.
Rodgers displays his propensity for a varied performance, not only in style but in emotions.
The Astral Weeks-indebted sauntering of ‘Your Mind’s Sweet’, a rousing cover of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Moonlight and Gold’ and the rasping blues-infused strums of ‘Veins to the Sun’ all expel a spiritual yearning to “awaken and shake the essence of man”, his words convulse the air with a stubborn spirit, but it is on the folk ballad ‘Stronger than Man’ that Rodgers is at his most animate.
His voice is thick and soulful and shakes intolerably like a light blowing out with one last warning before his delicate fingerpicking is reconstructed into a ceilidh-like jam, trading solo duties with Calderwood and Sexon.
The night ends at an after-party in The Priory, where musicians jam, sing, dance and celebrate the successful evening.
The thought of saggy eyes, combed hair and slow deaths are forgotten for now as the “true connection to all the wonder” that Rodgers’ incants is spread out across the face of all attending.
Words: Josh McKee