It’s been a busy year for Madison Cunningham. In 2023, the American folk singer opened the year winning a Grammy for Best Folk Album and ended it as the supporting act for Irish singer-songwriter Hozier on his largely sold out Unreal, Unearth tour.

On Sunday night, however, Cunningham stepped out from the opening act slot to headline her own show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. Playing songs from her most recent release Revealer and her debut album Who Are You Now, Cunningham kept a full house captivated with cool vocals and a dynamic live band.

Madison Cunningham performing with her guitar, standing between her bassist and her guitarist.
Image courtesy of Niamh Murphy.

An Emotional Journey

Opening with the soft, crooning notes of “Something to Believe In,” Cunningham took the audience on an hour and half long journey through her successful discography and a range of genres and subjects.

Fans cheered for the lilting opening notes of “L.A. (Looking Alive).” Bopping along in a delightful tandem, they matched the cheery cadence of the song. Other upbeat folk songs like “In From Japan,” “Anywhere,” and “Common Language” got similar treatments, keeping spirits high. The crowd fed into the lighter energy with playful calls of “We love you!” and “You’re so good at music!” between songs. Cunningham called back in good fun, in-between her own jokes of being her own (underpaid and not-so-great) guitar tech.

Cunningham also took fans through edgier routes with the twangy guitar riffs of “Hospital.” The song’s “I am always one man down” post-chorus had fans sing-shouting along in earnest. Bass-heavy and funky “Pin It Down” and deluxe album addition “Death by Suspicion” followed, taking a more angstier approach to Cunningham’s musings on fragility and anxiety.

But it was the softer acoustic sets that really showcased Cunningham’s power as both a songwriter and a performer. Alone on stage with just her guitar, Cunningham took the audience through the fan-requested “Sarah and the Silent Crowd,” the loss-centric “Inventing the Wheel,” and the COVID-era “Broken Harvest,” leaving the audience silent in their reverence. It’s a near religious experience. Not in a literal sense, but more in the way that it feels both Cunningham and the crowd are singing for something greater than themselves. By the time she finishes the last, heartbreaking “Once your girl, I’m always your girl” line of “Life According to Raechel,” a song inspired by Cunningham’s grandmother, much of the audience (and the author) is in quiet tears.

Image courtesy of Niamh Murphy.

A Powerhouse Performer

Cunningham’s latest album Revealer is a turbulent one. Sifting through difficult emotional states while also experiencing difficult external ones, the record describes a state of limbo. Her show also created this feeling for fans, contrasting Cunningham’s solid, stoic figure as the frontwoman with a psychedelic swirling tree branch backdrop and rolling, vivid stage lighting. Combined, this made a show that felt both mystical, yet entirely down to earth.

Cunningham’s presence on stage was enchanting. Donning a sheer black cape and draped in dramatic lighting, her haunting vocals rang out clearly across the crowd. But between songs, Cunningham was an approachable, charming 25-year-old woman, joking about this performance being tougher than her previous night’s opening act at Madison Square Garden since she “could see everyone’s faces. And pores.”

Cunningham is a charismatic performer, resulting in near silence from the crowd as they watched raptly as she picks and croons through an emotive set list. She doesn’t need to whip and whirl around the stage to command attention, she simply has “it” — the kind of onstage presence that makes the comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple seem so clear.

Image courtesy of Niamh Murphy.

With a loaded performance — a full band, a vigorous lighting display by the incredibly talented Ben Factor, and even a string quartet — it could be easy to be overpowered. But through it all, all eyes were only ever on Cunningham. And with this level of performance and her strong body of work, it seems that attention will only grow.

Image courtesy of Niamh Murphy.

Madison Cunningham is continuing her fall tour with dates in Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles. She will also be continuing as the supporting act for Hozier on the rest of his U.S. tour dates through December. Be sure to follow Madison Cunningham on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more updates from her tour.

Want more concert recaps? Check out our coverage of SE SO NEON in New York City here.