Jake Wesley Rogers: anthems and extravagance at Bimbo's

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday March 7, 2023
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Jake Wesley Rogers (photo: Jakob Wandel)
Jake Wesley Rogers (photo: Jakob Wandel)

"When I was a kid, Pluto was still a planet."

This wistful lyric — a pretty much perfect bundling of the macro and the micro, the individual and the universal — sounds like the musing of an old soul.

But its writer, the exuberantly queer Jake Wesley Rogers — whose first tour as a headliner stops at Bimbo's 365 Club on March 12 — is all of 26. (Pluto, after all, was only demoted to dwarf status two decades ago).

A native of Ozark, Missouri who took up guitar at age 6 and came out in sixth grade, Rogers draws more on the lyrical and melodic traditions of classic '70s pop than on the repetitive beat-centric catchphrase grooves that characterize much of today's hits.

The resulting recordings, two recent EPs on Warner Brothers ("Pluto," 2021; "Love," 2022) preceded by several independent releases, are richly emotional works with a sweeping, passionate quality evocative of Billy Joel, David Bowie, and Elton John, who has praised Rogers' songcraft and interviewed him for Apple Music.

When Rogers was growing up, his music-loving mother worked as a radio disc jockey and let him tag along with her to concerts where she warmed up the crowd on behalf of her stations.

"I loved the whole atmosphere," he recalled in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I was a kid in the 2000s, so my first big musical loves were Avril LaVigne, Christina [Aguilera], and Britney."

(Rogers' first brush with national fame came when he competed on "America's Got Talent" at age 15, where his repertoire included a spirited but awkward performance of Spears' "Toxic.")

"I was dancing around my room to all of them and Lady Gaga, but the first thing I ever remember singing was Beatles songs. 'Imagine' was one of the first songs I really loved to sing."

The hope, magic and determined optimism reflected in that generation-transcending classic are at the heart of Rogers' own anthemic compositions, which crystallize his own experiences with alienation, marginalization, self-acceptance and self-celebration.

Jake Wesley Rogers  

Writing vs. performing
"My songwriting is a messy, chaotic process," he explained. "I'm glad nobody has to see it except for me. I just walk around and look at things and all of a sudden a title will appear and I'll write it down in a journal. Then one day I'll be meditating at the piano and a whole song might come rushing out. It can appear like it's happening all at once, but it's usually months, if not years, thinking about something until it comes together like than."

While Rogers, who says he always keeps a copy of "Leaves of Grass" at his bedside and over the past two years has read extensively about various forms of spiritual philosophy, is deeply introspective in regard to songwriting, he's a full-bore extrovert when it comes to performance, leaning full-tilt-Gaga into piano-pounding and wardrobe extravagance.

If you think Harry Styles is the apex of contemporary pop star androgyny, think again. Rogers' current tour 'lewks' include taffeta poufs, metallic capes and voluminous harem pants.

"I think I love performance the most," said the soft-spoken Rogers, who explodes into incandescent outrageousness the moment he hits the stage. "I kind of geek out over making that connection with the audience happen. There's something so amazing about feeling yourself be heard and reflected back by the audience."

Last year, Rogers toured the country as the opening act for arena shows by Panic at the Disco.

"Lots of people weren't even there when my set would start," he recalled. "They were just trickling in to these huge spaces as we were playing. And most of them didn't even know who I was. But at almost every show, there was some moment when there was this synergy and the room turned, and then they were with me. I could feel it. It was really special, as if every night was a little hero's journey. And I think we won, every night."

With shows on his solo tour already selling out in many cities, it's easy to imagine Rogers having an audience in the palm of his hand before he ever plays a note.

So what becomes the next challenge at that point?

"I'm not really ready to think about that," he said, sheepishly mentioning that he can imagine writing a musical theater piece or publishing a book of poetry some day.

"I still feel very green. The unknown is before me. I'm in a beautiful flow creatively and there's not a jaded bone in my body."

Jake Wesley Rogers, Sunday March 12, with Stacey Ryan. $25. Bimbo's 365 Club. 1025 Columbus Ave. (415) 474-0365 www.jakewesleyrogers.com www.ticketweb.com

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