RACHAEL Yamagata dives into her sold-out Wednesday night show with a glass of wine in hand and a delivery, in her throaty alto, of an a cappella version of the poetic Elephants.
The song, the title track from her 2008 sophomore release, Elephants... Teeth Sinking Into Heart, toys with animal metaphors and is about love gone wrong (as many of the New York singer's tracks are).
Without instrumentation, it is potent and raw - much more so than on record. And as Yamagata sings ballads like Be Be Your Love (off her 2004 debut, Happenstance), she sounds as though she is plaintively crying out instead of belting out the peaks of the songs.
The 90-minute gig at Esplanade's small Recital Studio (her second this week) sees Yamagata accompanying herself on piano or guitar.
It is so intimate that, at times, it feels as if Yamagata has reached out her arm and drawn the audience into the very depths of her injured heart - the centre from which she writes.
She laughs before saying: "What do people write about these days that's not sad? I need something... I need a Teenage Dream! I need to wear tight jeans!"
She refers to the hit by Katy Perry - a hit that someone like Yamagata (who reveals that she's recently weathered yet another break-up and who says she's about to record a new album) would never write. Nor would her fans want her to.
As she sings Faster, a song of revenge, she breaks her guitar pick as she's wailing the line: "That's the last black eye I hope I ever give to you."
She stops in surprise and shouts: "That's rock 'n' roll, baby!"
Yamagata does forget her lyrics at times, such as in The Only Fault. When she makes a flub, she is candid, grinning widely and apologising, fumbling with her guitar.
No one minds - it shows that Yamagata doesn't think she needs to be perfect. Because perfect is boring, and a flawed Yamagata is far more lovely to behold than any other artist out there on the top 10 charts.