Maggie Rogers proves she's ready to headline arenas at BMO Pavilion concert in Milwaukee

Maggie Rogers accomplished quite a feat at the BMO Pavilion Saturday: She may have created the only circumstance in Milwaukee history where people gleefully cheered "The Bucks lost!"

A little context: A highlight on her third and latest album, "Don't Forget Me," is "So Sick of Dreaming," a Fleetwood Mac-style side-eye diss aimed at a terrible ex. And it was a highlight of Rogers' 94-minute set Saturday, with Rogers reciting the spoken-word story about being stood up 15 minutes before a dinner reservation because her date scored an NBA ticket.

On the recording, the team is the Knicks. In Milwaukee Saturday, she changed it to the Bucks. And the kicker of the story, the payback as it were, is that "the Bucks lost," the last three words boisterously shouted back at Rogers Saturday.

It takes a special kind of star with really devoted fans to convince a packed venue to cheer a home team's (hypothetical) misfortune. It also explains why Rogers will be graduating to arena-headliner status this fall.

At a near-capacity, 5,000-seat BMO Pavilion Saturday, she showed she's ready for that leap.

But she didn't take the easy and conventional path to get to this point.

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Sure, Rogers brought the same ceaseless energy and piercing falsetto she demonstrated at the Riverside Theater last year, which she transferred to new material with ease. For "Drunk," she banged her head vigorously and danced back and forth between her two guitarists during their solos. During "The Kill," her soaring vocal finish went straight for the throat.

"Don't Forget Me" — which shows Rogers in her most concise, and most folk-oriented, and has had some of the strongest reviews of her highly praised career — dominated Saturday's set, which meant Rogers didn't rehash the stage-seasoned songs she played at the Riverside last year. In fact, 11 of the night's 17 songs weren't performed in Milwaukee last year.

And those weren't just the new songs either. The setlist also included an early career gem, "Dog Years," plus a solo acoustic cover, the kind of thing Rogers said Saturday that she hadn't really done since high school before this tour, ending the night with an intimate rendition of Damien Rice's "Cannonball."

The six songs carried over from last year included "Light On" — with Rogers recreating the sing-to-the-camera-with-the-audience-behind her moment that was so memorable at the Riverside — as well as "Say It" and her breakout "Alaska."

But her treatment of the latter was drastically different. Rogers and her band skipped the gentle electronic production that accompanies her musical epiphany in favor of a folk-country approach, complete with a little organ, more in the vein of recent collaborator Zach Bryan. That was a bold move, but boldness is what got Rogers to this place in the first place, and her passionate performance ensured it would pay off.

Maggie Rogers performs at the BMO Pavilion in Milwaukee on Saturday, June 8, 2024.
Maggie Rogers performs at the BMO Pavilion in Milwaukee on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

There was one unexpected highlight Saturday that wasn't entirely of Rogers' making. As she sat down alone behind a keyboard to perform what she said was to be the saddest part of the set, "I Still Do," fireworks erupted nearby at PrideFest, also in Maier Festival Park. Not exactly the most ideal circumstances for a pour-your-heart-out ballad — and Rogers said Saturday, it actually was the second straight night that fireworks had intruded on this moment.

But she talked about how the fireworks the night before actually transformed the sentiment of "I Still Do," making her rendition more joyful. And sure enough, it had the same effect Saturday night, infusing her performance with more hope, more gratitude, particularly as she sang lines like "Love is not the final straw/But it's a reason to risk it all."

And, as if the PrideFest fireworks were timed for Rogers' performance explicitly, the display's big finale finished shortly before the song's radiant close, as Rogers gently sang, "I loved you/Ohhh, and I still do."

Just don't expect any actual fireworks when Rogers brings her tour to Madison Square Garden, Chicago's United Center and other arenas. She's not going to need them.

6 takeaways from Maggie Rogers' Milwaukee concert, including opener The Japanese House

  • Those fireworks might have seemed like a bad fit for “I Still Do” at first, but the sounds of explosions certainly enhanced more charged songs like “Renegade” and “If Now Was Then” — although Rogers was such a force on stage that most of the audience kept their eyes on her and not the sky. “That is so cool,” Rogers said about the fireworks on stage. “This makes me feel like I’m in the movie of my life.” Later, Rogers also smiled when a rogue leftover firework erupted at the very start of the bridge to “Fallingwater.”

  • During "Love You for a Long Time," a "Kiss Cam" graphic appeared on the screen, prompting a barrage of close-up smooches from fans in the crowd. And fans closest to the stage in the central section had a special surprise for Rogers: Hundreds of them held up signs during the song that read, "We'll love you for a long time."

  • Rogers had a literal mic-drop moment during the primary set’s finale “That’s Where I Am” — but it wasn’t an intentional one. Rogers accidentally dropped her handheld mic as she vigorously danced around the stage. But fans and star alike had a good laugh.

  • Among the six sharp musicians making up Rogers’ band was a Wisconsin native: Brian Kelsey, on bass.

  • I couldn’t count the number of concerts I’ve seen at the BMO Pavilion, but Saturday was the first time I recall huge waves of people banging their hands on the metal benches toward the back of the venue ahead of the encore. Hearing the alien-like rumble, for a split second I thought a swarm of 17-year cicadas had invaded Maier Festival Park.

  • Saturday’s opening set for The Japanese House (stage name for British singer-songwriter Amber Bain) wasn’t a homecoming, but it was a homecoming of sorts for setlist highlight “Follow My Girl,” which Bain wrote at Justin Vernon’s April Base studios outside of Eau Claire. Co-produced by Bon Iver collaborator BJ Burton, Saturday’s live rendition was equipped with swinging sax from one of five backing musicians, which turned “Follow My Girl” into a feel-good song about nothing feeling good. It also recalled The 1975 (Matty Healy was a crucial early champion), as did an unreleased song House played near the end of their 40 minutes. But heartbroken lyrics in indie-pop ballads like “Sad to Breathe” felt deeply personal. The emotions were universal, but these felt like songs only Bain could justifiably sing.

Maggie Rogers' BMO Pavilion setlist

  1. "It Was Coming All Along"

  2. "Drunk"

  3. "So Sick of Dreaming"

  4. "The Kill"

  5. "Say It"

  6. "Dog Years"

  7. "Love You for a Long Time"

  8. "On and On and On"

  9. "Retrograde"

  10. "If Now Was Then"

  11. "I Still Do"

  12. "Alaska"

  13. "Fallingwater"

  14. "Light On"

  15. "That's Where I Am"

  16. "Don't Forget Me"

  17. "Cannonball" (Damien Rice cover)

Editor's Note: This story has corrected the spelling of The Japanese House's real name.

Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or plevy@journalsentinel.com. Follow him on X at @pietlevy or Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Maggie Rogers shows she's ready for arenas at Milwaukee concert

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