Big Night Live has suffered a terrible attack, as singer Yola blew the roof clean off

By Shannon Garrido, Multimedia Managing Editor

English singer-songwriter and musician Yola Carter made a stop at Big Night Live in Boston on Sept. 21 to perform her latest album “Stand For Myself” on a US tour. 

As I power-walked through the venue to quickly find a spot right in front of the stage, I noticed the crowd around me was… particular. There was no shortage of craft beer millennials, parents (with their children), and maybe even someone’s grandma making their way toward the dance floor. It was clear Yola’s music didn’t attract a singular demographic—her music can be enjoyed by anyone. 

When Yola walked out with a big smile on her face, the violet lights complimented her sleek black dress and purple curls. She started with “Barely Alive,” the first song in her latest album “Stand For Myself.”

Her voice was smooth and gracious, every syllable pronounced and emphasized with such a sultry power it sent shivers down my spine—and this was only the first song. Like so much of her music, “Barely Alive” is lyrically tragic and existential, but sunny and uplifting in its delivery. 

The song describes the sad and, in many cases, traumatic experiences Black women endure. “Barely Alive,” written shortly after George Floyd’s murder two years ago, details the isolating feelings that come with being the only Black woman in a room. 

“Alone for all these years/ Isolated we hold in our tears/ And we try to get by/ And we strive/ But we’re barely alive,” Yola sang to the crowd, almost humming the last word for every line. 

She put so much pain and sorrow into her lyrics to the point that all I wanted to do was stand still and take in the lyrics as she sang, “When will we start living? Could you even try?” 

But the second you hear the lively strike of the keyboard and her voice against the drums, there’s nothing else you can do but dance along with her. I wasn’t the only one moving to the rhythm while simultaneously wiping away tears. The group of women to my right were swaying and bawling in unison with their hands in the air. The effect Yola had on the room right out the gate made me excited for the rest of her performance. And, boy, she did not disappoint. 

Photo: Marisa Ariyoshi
Yola performs at Boston’s Big Night Live.

Every record from her newest album was an experience in itself. When she performed “Now You’re Here,” a romantic and passionate track, it felt like her voice embraced the room, encouraging everyone to join her. Amongst many wonderful moments, the crowd seemed to come more alive as Yola danced, laughed, and joked around while she sang. Although every note and belt was flawless, she seemed to be enjoying herself just as much as the audience. It almost seemed as if no hard work went into singing her heart out the way she was. 

There were several moments where she explained her songwriting process before performing it, always making sure to sprinkle in her natural comedic flare. My personal favorite was when she started to describe how the song “Diamond Studded Shoes” came to her. As a native of Bristol, England, Yola described her distaste for Theresa Mary, a British politician who served as Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2016 to 2019.

She recounted a story where she was watching the news and the former prime minister announced service cutbacks due to a lack of finances. Money, she said, could be used to feed starving children. Money, she assured, came from the common worker and not from a political party. She made this announcement whilst wearing diamonds on the heels of her shoes. Yola said Mary’s shortcomings inspired her to write the song, which once again is uplifting and full of good energy at a first listen, but holds a much deeper meaning upon further interpretation. 

“Everybody’s saying/ That it’s gonna be alright/ But I can’t help but wonder/ If it’s gonna be on my dime,” Yola sang. 

The lyrics explored Yola’s major concern with the state of the world around her. She very beautifully detailed how these socioeconomic disparities and the condescending rhetoric politicians shove down our throats has become tiring. It was very surreal to listen to the song after I understood what it meant and thought to myself, “is it really going to be alright?”

However, the intent of the song is not to keep us feeling helpless. 

“I wanted it to feel like a bunch of people who were just marching down the street very victoriously, and felt like a successful demonstration in its energy—a good energy, a high energy, upbeat like we’re really unified and really believing in what we’re doing,” Yola said of Diamond Studded Shoes in an interview with Rolling Stone

Hearing the song in-person ignited just that. It felt empowering and unifying to know everyone there was on the same page and was confident enough to sing out these concerns with her. 

Yola then sang with her “Living Room Band”—a group of backup musicians who helped recreate the sound of her original demos, which were written and recorded in her living room before being remastered in a studio.— She sang “Whatever You Want,” a song about leaving a controlling relationship and gaining the confidence and the power to reject the partner that hurt her. It was at this moment that my voice started to crack by how much I screamed the lyrics with her. 

The Living Room band also sang “If I Had To Do It All Again” in its original form and at this moment I lost my voice and my sanity. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album “Stand For Myself” and hearing it in such a raw form—only guitars and bass to complement Yola’s (insane) voice—was unlike anything I have ever experienced. 

As the concert wound down, Yola’s voice began to reach earth-shattering volumes. Her belts were heavenly to the point where I would stop moving and just stare in shock. My mind could not comprehend how someone’s voice could do something so majestic, but then again I have had a sore throat since 2004. Her rendition of her melodic and powerful record “Great Divide” sent me into heart failure, as she sang about yearning for human connection her voice quite literally thundered through the venue. It was impressive and beautiful and everything in between. 

Once she took her final bow and the lights came back up, my voice was completely gone, my legs felt like jelly, and my friends and I just stared at each other for a good minute. The walk home was catastrophic but completely worth it. 

Yola is an outstanding performer, an incredibly passionate and gifted songwriter with a voice that is out of this world. I cannot recommend the experience more. If she is near you, buy that ticket now.