On a drizzly Wednesday night in September, 500 excited Mitski fans gather under a railway bridge in Manchester. The Japanese-American indie rock singer has sold out the grungy-but-friendly Gorilla, off the back of her acclaimed new album Be The Cowboy.
After warmup from EERA, the crowd doesn’t need to wait long to be greeted by the loud, reverberating opening chords to new track ‘Remember My Name’. There’s no pomp and circumstance at a Mitski gig; in fact, she plays five or six songs before saying anything more than a modest ‘thank you’. High production value shows seem almost gaudily unnecessary after the simplicity of seeing Mitski.
Despite this, movement is a key part of seeing the Be The Cowboy tour. Playing ‘Francis Forever’, a song about broken-hearted panic, she begins to walk repeatedly up and down the stage, looking straight ahead, personifying an intensely anxious mental state through choreography. In the instrumental of lead single ‘Geyser’, she holds her arms up to the sky as if seeing a real natural phenomenon; she smiles her most genuine smile of the show so far. Nothing is more Mitski than seeing a completely wild, thrashing dance transition to her typical soft-spoken “thank you!” as the song ends.
It is moving to see how the setlist and choreography have clearly been carefully planned to produce a transition from more reserved performances to uncontrolled dancing and genuine smiles; there is a build from a place of emotional emptiness to comfort and warmth. Perhaps this reflects the relief that Mitski hopes to effect in herself and her listeners through her songs.
The beauty of Mitski’s trend of writing short, two-minute songs – she has talked before about how being a woman of colour in music means people automatically stop listening sooner – is that she has time to perform many of them live. She plays 25 in total, supported by a diverse and talented band. For the last two songs of the setlist, they leave the stage and she picks up a guitar for the first time in the night. It’s an acoustic, but she nearly screams the lyrics of ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’, communicating a sentiment of directionless youth that resonates with the mostly-student audience.
She closes with the delicate ballad ‘A Burning Hill’ – there is a certain poetry in her outfit choice of a white-button down shirt, as referenced in the 2016 Puberty 2 album closer’s lyrics, and every audience member gazes up at her, completely captivated by the atmosphere of the moment.
Her desire to remain a private person comes across in her few words, but those she does share entrance the crowd. “You knew I would do this!” she jokes, as she and the band come back for an encore. At this point, she thanks the crowd for their support of her music – “I can’t thank you enough for giving me my dream.” After this moment of reflectivity, she jokes again that she’ll be finishing the night with a “straight-to-Bandcamp” hit, before demonstrating one final time her musical prowess in the vocal workout that is the chorus of 2013 track ‘Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart’.
It’s been over a month since I saw Mitski play, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I truly hope that the well-deserved success with which Be The Cowboy has been met is just the start of a wider appreciation for this immensely talented artist.
Listen to Be the Cowboy now, available on all platforms.