Maggie Szabo Ups Her Game at the Hotel Cafe
With her brilliant smile, athletic body and mischievous eyes, the diminutive Maggie Szabo put on a show Friday night at LA’s premier showcase club this Friday that topped even her high-energy performance record. Nobody sat still as she rocked through 11 songs – mostly new material including the new, soon-to-be-a-hit “Paralyze”, along with favorites like “Sweetest Heartache” and the solid pop-anthem, “Slow Fire”.
Having seen her live four times, I could tell that there has been both a creative burst and a lot of hard work in her career since I started following her about a year ago. New songs blended smoothly with her audience’s established favorites, making the evening seem like a party with old friends; there were no dissonant notes, no “where is Maggie going?”, questions. It just all worked. Even when she took to the old upright piano in far stage left and shifted mood for “Touch the Ground” and “Take Your Time”, she was on target both as a singer and as a performer. Plus she gave a preview of some of the new songs on an EP she is now wrapping up a new EP, Truth.
It was the performer side of Maggie that really seems to have grown. A consummate relationship builder online, with tens of thousands of Facebook and twitter followers, Maggie has always been able to transfer that likeability to her performances – a skill I marveled at last February when I attended her album release party on the same stage. But this Friday night she brought a new confidence and a new capacity to connect personally with individual fans – the way Bill Clinton does in a crowd. She was singing to you, personally.
A Canadian-born, Nashville-trained soul-pop singer with ferocious energy packed into a compact, constantly moving frame, Maggie has moved from an online hit wonder to full-blown top writing, singing and touring performer. In the short time she has been in LA, I have watched her tighten her song-writing, elevate her command of the stage, and pull her current band – Steven Shook, Sam Campbell, Frank Grande, Sonny Kennelly, Aaron Aiken, Chantel McCrary together into a well-oiled and joyfully focused machine.
Stepping up to her trademark pink mic stand and microphone, dressed in formal short black dress with a bare midriff that let the rhinestone in her belly button flash as she moved, Maggie was confident and energized. She kicked off the evening with a new song, “Tragedy”, telling the song’s recipient of her attitude, Cuz I’d be the one who would make you feel/Like a million dollars every day of the week while letting us know she would make us feel like a million dollars that night.
And she did, introducing us to the new song, “Paralyze” and then up-shifting even more to her full-tilt dance cut, “Slow Fire”. The room bounced and swayed as she told us Baby, we can burn all night– and we were ready to do just that. As she moved through the set list, including the two songs with her at the piano and back to the band with “One Sided”, her command of the performance and the audience expanded, like the lens on a spotlight opening up to illuminate a growing circle. When she gave the band a downbeat and launched into the pop-constructed “Sweetest Heartache” with its ultimately singable hooks, people in the back of the room couldn’t restrain themselves and started dancing, clearing a tiny space in the standing crowd.
“Relapse” and “Forgive and forget” kept the energy up. Maggie finished on the highest note in repertory, her hit single “Tidal Waves and Hurricanes”. It was over too soon.
Early on in the performance Maggie told us that the Hotel Café is her favorite venue in LA and she rocks it wonderfully. But I would love to see her in a larger space, either solo or opening for a national act where she could bring in her legions of fans and give them room to dance. Her pop constructions can easily cross from iPod Playlists sand Pandora downloads to into room-filling anthem/dance music A larger space as a solo or big tour warm up act would also give her the freedom to lengthen her songs from radio-ready 2 to 3 minutes to concert length, 5 – 7 minute cuts. She has the energy and the material – “Slow Fire” and “Tidal Waves and Hurricanes”, for instance – and her current band could easily kick it up even more with drum and guitar solos. But most importantly, Maggie has the authority on stage to translate to a larger venue and a growing audience. She deserves it and so do we.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, MusicFridayLive!
Hotel Café, Hollywood CA