Ironically enough, with the release of Be The Cowboy, Mitski’s most experimental and pop-inflected album to date, Mitski has finally become the true rock ‘n’ roll star she was clearly born to be. Untethered from her guitar with a full band and backing tracks, Mitski completely owned the stage and attention of the audience, diving deep into the emotionality of her music with a newly developed, incredibly intense stage presence. In an interview with The Fader, Mitski said, “How can I use my voice as an instrument and make this interesting?” and she delivers on all fronts when it’s the only instrument she’s focusing on.
Only limited by the struggling sound system of a club venue like The Magic Stick, Mitski brought her new material to life this past Tuesday among a surprising number of deep cuts from her earlier material, including tracks like “Townie” and “First Love / Late Spring,” closing with “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart,” which elicited much screaming and excitement from the crowd. Surprisingly, Mitski only has three full-length studio albums under her name, yet her 21-song set felt surprisingly evolutionary for such a young artist; she flashed all of her best facets within an hour and a half, revealing growth not only in songwriting but in performance as well.
Yet, this is precisely the unfortunate paradox of a Mitski performance: She played a full set spanning her entire career, and it still left me wanting more. This isn’t to the fault of the artist, but speaks more to the fact that the only way to be satisfied by a Mitski set is a full three hours to perform her entire catalogue. I was heartbroken that “Fireworks” had lost its spot in her setlists, while I heard others mourn the losses of “A Burning Hill” and “Texas Reznikoff.” Simply put, she’s that talented, and while her set perfectly exemplified her growth as an artist, her individual tracks are too nuanced to not notice when they’re missing.
Regardless of these selfish tendencies of her fans, Mitski’s live performances are spectacular, and her vocal abilities and new emotional investment in movement contribute to her magnetic nature. Her control of volume in particular weighed heavily on the room’s atmosphere; she can just as easily overpower the room with bellowing, soaring vocals like those of “Geyser” as she can softly tease out sadness and nostalgia as witnessed during “Two Slow Dancers,” which completely silenced the crowd.
While her older songs more or less carry an indie-rock sound with them, her newer material added the perfect amount of diversity to her setlist. Playing “Washing Machine Heart” only three songs into the set, the crowd bobbed and swayed with the disjointed synth and drum lines, which perfectly accent her soft ruminations before the song falls into an elegant melody over it all. It’s an aching song masked in some of the most inventive pop music written this year, and her delivery perfectly mirrored this. She proceeded to pull this off several more times, especially with singles “Geyser” and “Nobody” which both pull from a similar vein of songwriting style.
Having sold out The Magic Stick weeks in advance of the concert, it’d be shocking if Mitski doesn’t start to take her shows to larger venues that can better accommodate her demanding vocal range and complex arrangements. But for now, she continues to put out incredible work that is deeply moving to see delivered live. Mitski is an artist that has proved her dedication to her art time and time again, and it seeps into every aspect of her shows, from her dancing and singing to her interaction with the crowd. Mitski is truly loved by her fans, and based on last week’s performance, it’s likely she truly loves them back.