Mitski Can’t Be Contained

Philip Cosores

Mitski looks like an actor from a silent film.

It’s hard to imagine it wasn’t intentional, but during her incredible performance at Los Angeles’s Shrine Auditorium on Thursday night, the question kept springing into my head: I wonder if Mitski likes Babylon. She certainly dressed the part, with baggy trousers and a tucked-in dress shirt standing in contrast to what most performers — particularly those who dance for a good portion of the night — wear. You half expected her to put on a pork pie hat and some suspenders.

That dancing also recalled the Buster Keatons of days past — along with obvious influence David Byrne — as Mitski offered playful contrast to her often somber music, doing bits where she strummed an imaginary guitar on “The Frost,” mimicked a dog on all fours during “I Bet On Losing Dogs,” danced with a beam of light for “Heaven,” and balanced on a chair like it were the edge of a building on “First Love/Late Spring.” The gestures and movement of every dance were exaggerated to reach the cheap seats, the larger-than-life physical inflections similar to those of an actor stripped of their voice, using their body and expressions to convey complete emotions. It was, to put it bluntly, incredible.

Philip Cosores

If you’ve seen Mitski before, you are aware that her live sets have long gone beyond the singer-songwriter tunes that have most earned her attention. She follows a tradition of recent indie artists like Justin Vernon and Sufjan Stevens in knowing that their popularity demands them to expand past their folky roots. It’s easy trying to contain an artist like her with obvious, reductive signifiers like “sad girl,” and she is under no obligation to prove such a point. But as she whole-heartedly sold her heightened choreography, it did underscore that quiet music can fill up the biggest spaces, if backed up by the right amount of confidence and creativity.

Of course, it wasn’t just her performance, or that of her 7-piece backing band, that made for one of the best tours of this young year. The new arrangements on beloved tracks like “I Don’t Smoke” and “Love Me More” were certainly enough to stand on their own. But the overall creative direction, both for this show and for the entire rollout of The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, has shown Mitski to be every bit the Capital A Artist who considers the complete presentation of her work as essential to the artform. We highlighted her merch design and album packaging in Uproxx’s inaugural Sound + Vision Awards for just this reason, but her tour finds the vision at its most vibrant and complete.

Philip Cosores

No moment better signify this than Mitski’s performance of her genuine, bonkers-huge hit, “My Love Mine All Mine.” Out of nowhere, strings of amorphous shapes came down from the lighting rigs and surrounded her, catching and reflecting light back on the audience. In contrast to the confetti and pyrotechnics that punctate arena concerts, this was a showstopping visual moment that was able to take the audience’s breath away at the set’s most crucial moment, without making her seem like Coldplay. But even beyond this, things like lighting, color, shadows, and shape were all employed in deliberate fashion, so that every movement of her 90-minute set felt meticulous and purposeful.

Mitski, for her part, seems to be doing her best to adjust to new heights of popularity. She’s long been off social media, she lets the incessant “I love yous” from the audience roll off her back — except when mimicking a particularly masculine exclaimer — and she has her fans helping police the overzealous in attendance. It’s almost as if there is an invisible wall around Mitski that her fans help to maintain, to allow their favorite artist the space needed to create her best work. On Thursday night, it all seemed worth it, with Mitski’s creativity flourishing in a limitless manner. Mitski can’t be contained, her art is wild and free.

 


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