Live Review: Vagabon, Angélica Garcia, Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 18, 2021

Reflecting midset about how a year-plus away from the stage has changed the way she engages with audiences, Vagabon’s Lætitia Tamko acknowledged that she used to let the music speak for itself, barely talking between songs, while now she makes more of an effort to connect.

At Johnny Brenda’s, the Cameroon-born, New York–based artist organically cultivated connections to Philadelphia, opening up about how Hop Along inspired her to make music of her own and going beyond the predictable cheesesteak banter we’ve heard from hundreds of touring performers by singling out West Philly’s Fu-Wah as the only place she wants to eat.

But for the most part, Vagabon’s music did speak for itself, a lush blend of classic pop, folk pop, indie pop and synth pop that put Tamko’s rich vocals and universal themes of yearning and becoming front and center. Standouts included “Secret Medicine” and “Water Me Down” (both from 2019’s Vagabon), “The Embers” (from 2016 debut Infinite Worlds) and a cover of Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” (uncoupled from the duet recording she and Courtney Barnett released in 2021).

Yet it was an unreleased song from the project that Tamko has been working on that seemed to energize her the most, and that holds the key to deeper connections still to come. Human interaction is hard, awkward and often elusive, but there’s something inspiring about hearing someone who can say so much in a three-minute song attempting to create a space where we can all dream, at least, of speaking our truth and being seen.

Angélica Garcia opened with thought-provoking, heart-pounding, and hip-shaking bangers from her second album, 2020’s Cha Cha Palace, built around her powerful voice, Salvadoran/Mexican/East L.A. heritage and loop prowess. Whether backed by a guitarist on songs like “I Don’t Believe In Death” and “Lucifer Waiting” or building a sonic world all her own for “Jícama” and “Guadalupe,” Garcia proved to be a commanding performer, producer and lyricist, forcefully wiping out the lines arbitrarily drawn around music made for the club, the studio, the street, the car and the bedroom.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Angélica Garcia