Mitski Is Both A Presence And A Performer

Posted: by The Editor


Mitski is more than just a performer, she’s a presence. Her ability to conjure empowerment from her own vulnerability gives her a sort of super humanness. Not superhuman, as in physical and/or emotional advantages that would render one superior among others. But super human, as in exceedingly connected with herself, and unusually gifted at presenting her thoughts in ways that resonate with a generation’s worth of the anxious and wounded.

Speaking to The Creative Independent last year about how she’s come to conceptualize her performances, she said: “They’re there to see a show, and they’re not even watching you—they’re watching a projection of you that’s in their brain. They’re there to feel their own emotions, and sort their own feelings out.”

Upon seeing her and her band play in a 350-cap room last Friday in Pittsburgh, that quote felt particularly relevant. Every facial expression she made seemed inherently connected to whichever song she was playing, every snarled or cooed alteration from her recordings sounded as if she was working through those lyrics in real time, and every one of the few words she spoke between songs felt as sincere as the ones she was belting moments earlier. As she stood before the mic, stoic, either gazing intently into the crowd or kind of smiling while glancing downward, Mitski became both the art and the artist.

That’s how she appeared to me, at least. That’s how I interpreted her performance, perhaps because her music holds a kind of peerless status within my bank of musical references, and her unwavering live show felt like a seamless extension to the intense aesthetic of her recordings. It felt right for Mitski to be as mighty of a performer as she was, because to me, her music epitomizes finding strength in human weakness.

However, unlike other concert experiences, I also became strangely cognizant of how others in the room were connecting with her music. Some were smiling uncontrollably, turning to their friends and passionately blurting the words as they beamed. Others were standing still, eyes glued to center-stage as they unconsciously murmured along while lost in deep thought. One couple was dancing sensually together, mouthing the lines into each other’s lips before pressing into one another. In most “rock show” contexts, such intimacy would feel ill-timed, but somehow it didn’t grossly juxtapose the nearby teary-eyed. Somehow, such a diverse array of expressions felt not only welcome, but like an essential part of the Mitski experience.

Although the atmosphere of the room was unique in and of itself, she was also a remarkably compelling musician to see live. Nearly every one of her songs has a swell, so hearing how big they sounded with a dynamic live band was particularly moving. The extra kick of distortion at the end of “I Bet On Losing Dogs” felt massive, and even though she’s probably nearing her 500th playthrough of “Townie,” her blustery inflections during the hook indicated that she still gets something out of it. She played bass for the majority of the set, but her bandmates stepped offstage as she stripped down to acoustic guitar for “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” “Class of 2013” and “Last Words of a Shooting Star.” Despite gutting the fullness of a band, those three were some of her most powerful of the night, a quality few of her contemporaries could embody.

“This is my dream, this is all I want in my life,” she said sweetly yet shruggingly before her encore, pausing as if she felt she had more to say but couldn’t think of how to phrase it. She didn’t need to encore. In fact, it felt like an act of benevolence for her to invite her bandmates back up for “Drunk Walk Home,” the loudest and fiercest song in her discography.

By the end, another quote from her Creative Independent interview felt relevant: “It makes performing every night much easier, when I realize that it’s not about me, it’s about the audience. It’s about giving them what they need.”

She took great care of us.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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