Posted by: brad – Nov 18, 2016
Young concertgoers planted themselves firmly at the very front of the stage, ensured their unobstructed view of the much-adored artist and her equally revered opening acts.
Tension built to burst for Japanese-born, NYC-based Mitski to take the stage as Toronto four-piece Weaves opened the show. It was a sprightly beginning to the show as the band’s art-pop/indie delivered themes of love, isolation and infatuation with a self-deprecating wink.
Weaves’ sharp, jagged guitar riffs, complexly rhymed lyrics and polyrhythmic beats call to mind the boom times of early aughts art-rock; the reign of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, more recently, tUnE-yArDs.
But it’s no wonder that one of their first releases was a One Direction cover. Even with the unexpected rip of a frayed guitar, or a spastic backing beat, Weaves still has a certain amount of conventional pop in its DNA. Songs like “Coo Coo” and “Tick” have all the unchecked joy of a radio hit (though, of course, they still dive deep into shrill guitar hooks--all part of their fun).
Bines and guitarist Morgan Waters jerked and danced enthusiastically to the music as they pulled out riff after riff. The entire band seemed to lose themselves in the performance, with the exception of singer Burke, who presided over the energetic thrash of her bandmates with a calm withdraw. With each lyric, it seemed as though she was attempting to logically reason with the crowd over the cacophony. Then, as the crowd cheered, she smiled slightly, as though pleased she had made her point.
Their set’s closer, “Two Oceans,” came back to revel in the band’s weirdness and asymmetry, as singer Jasmyn Burke and bassist Zach Bines screamed into a shared microphone, and Burke, with faux exhaustion, collapsed to her knees.
Brighton, UK band Fear of Men took the stage next, for a darker, dreamier turn inward. With sweetly harmonized vocals reminiscent of the Cranberries, the band paired sharp snare hits and moody, cerebral guitar and synth, morphing their sound into something far bleaker, far darker.
Fear of Men seem a dark-mirror-universe version of Beach House and other dream pop bands. ‘80s goth acts like Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees seemed equally appropriate comparisons as funereal synth intermixed with a nearly unrecognizable guitar, creating a barren, alien drone punctuated only by singer and guitarist Jessica Weiss’s soft vocals and a quick snare tap.
Weiss (pictured above) stood center stage, an asymmetrical ponytail occasionally obscuring her face as she at turns wrapped the microphone cord around her neck, at others held her hands out to the crowd as though she were pushing away something, perfectly in time with sharp snap of the snare.
By the time Fear of Men took their final bow, the room was full to bursting, with people standing on benches, at edge of the soundbooth and on raised steps off to the side of the stage to get a better view of the stage.
Mitski stepped out with matter-of-factness, in a sweater and jeans, to set up the stage with the rest of her band. To uneven cheers, she quickly placed two construction lights, wrapped with white sheets, in front of the drum kit, before disappearing again.
Then, to a roar, she took the stage. Playing as a three-piece, the orchestral instrumentation of her latest release, Puberty 2, was stripped down to something more familiar to fans of her first three albums.
Perhaps the best way to describe a Mitski performance, and Mitski in general, is “bleak punk.” Her songs are short--most don’t track more than 3 minutes--and they are usually uptempo, catchy and ‘90s-esque.
But her lyrics and soft soprano vocals sharply emphasize themes of loss, of being lost, or, more generally, of never quite connecting with other people.
There’s an intentional sort of un-fulfillment in her songwriting. Each song crystallizes as a single emotion or a single instrument comes to the fro, before meeting an abrupt end, a resolution in the emotion’s seeming lack of resolution.
And with each song she played, it seemed there was someone for whom that was their favorite song, to which they knew every word.
Mitski’s newest single “Your Best American Girl” was met with a roar. However, even songs like “Drunk Walk Home,” off her 2014 album, or her closer, “Class of 2013,” off her first album, had someone in the crowd deliriously shouting every verse.
Mitski’s music is all vulnerability, and that is undoubtedly its draw. Nowhere was that more apparent than in this exchange Mitski had midset: she mentioned that she had not worn make up that day, “because I wanted to see my face as it is.”
Cheers abound, but then, one audience member feverishly shouted: “MAC don’t know SH-T!”
The audience, and Mitski laughed. And then, she put us all back under her spell.
Words by Sarah Schuster Photos by Craig Zirpolo