Indie Music

Mitski review – unusual, enigmatic and utterly compelling

A curtain hangs centre stage, as if set for a magician’s disappearing act. Mitski, barely visible in a black dress and tights, gazes at it longingly before ducking behind it. Her silhouette is thrown on to the drapes, frozen like a shadow puppet, as she opens with Everyone, a muted track which speaks, cryptically, about the American artist’s relationship to music, listeners and dark bargainings of success. The song ends, the curtain drops, and the “show” begins.

Mitski Miyawaki is no stranger to theatrics – the indie rock musician’s live performances have grown increasingly conceptual since the break-out success of 2018’s Be the Cowboy and her subsequent three-year hiatus from the music industry. But this tour, in honour of her celebrated seventh album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, perfects her unusual, enigmatic, utterly compelling stagecraft.

A self-contained, circular stage becomes a cabaret, a circus, a boxing ring, a cage. Her scalding songs are deployed like controlled explosions, glassily distanced by ingenious lighting and repetitive, gestural choreography. This artful, refined act offers neither catharsis nor release, and instead draws pointed attention to Mitski’s ability to play any role – the clown, the lover, the outcast, the villain.

The set spans a decade of music from five albums, rearranged to suit the new album’s pastoral and sometimes gothic Americana. Pedal steel, fiddle and accordion from Nashville-based musician Fats Kaplin bring out unexpected qualities in older songs (the frosty, frantic, 1980s-indebted Love Me More becomes earthy and eerie) and creates a gravitational pull towards her newer material. Heaven sees her waltz longingly with a beam of light, dizzied by keys and cymbals, while the strummed I’m Your Man swells into a murder ballad. “You believe me like a God, I betray you like a man,” she croons, straight-faced, while lights flicker like a seance.

She bounds back for an encore, with the broad grin of a Broadway star, to deliver Nobody, the biggest hit from Be the Cowboy. Here’s the big finish, she concedes, but this mercurial, magnificent show is designed to both please and unsettle. A master of tension, no one else can play this role like Mitski.

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