I was so thrilled to see Mitski, my favorite indie-punk artist, at the Horn Gallery on Friday, March 24 that I arrived two hours before she was scheduled to perform. The Horn slowly filled with students from Kenyon and elsewhere. Two attendees, who had met at their first Mitski concert in Chicago, came from Athens, Ohio and Kentucky. The room buzzed with anticipation. Even the opening act, an alternative artist called Sitcom, gave a nod to Mitski’s popularity. “You get to hear two of the greatest musicians: Mitski and me,” he said jokingly.
Mitski Miyawaki, known professionally as Mitski, is fast becoming an indie darling. She has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Elle magazine, NPR, Pitchfork and the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time in which the character Marceline plays her song “Francis Forever” at a concert. The Times even listed “Your Best American Girl” from her 2016 album, Puberty 2, as one of 25 songs that indicates where music is going. She is scheduled to perform at Boston Calling Music Festival this year.
Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father, Mitski often confronts themes of race in her music. The video for “Your Best American Girl,” one of her most popular songs, shows a thwarted romance between Mitski and a white man initially interested in her, who later becomes enamored with a white woman.
The Collegian reached out to interview Mitski, but, according to her agent, the Horn had not paid enough money to allow an interview.
Sitcom, also known as Jake Lazovick, began the evening with his distinct sound which he describes on his Bandcamp as “folk,” “bedroom pop” and “fake music.” Lazovick sang over digital tracks in a mumbly deadpan and rapped in one song, “Work.” He added a lively dimension to the performance with a red clown nose, somersaults, slapstick movement and carnivalesque facial expressions, from wide-eyed bewilderment to a frown so dramatic it made your mouth hurt.
Many people noticed, and would later comment on, how petite Mitski was. The beloved musician quietly slipped onstage and set up her guitar. She seemed calm and unassuming. This air, however, belied her powerful voice. She began her performance with a wordless melody that showed off her vocal technique. Her fluty voice flowed between notes with hypnotic agility. Nearly the entire room went silent, and those who were still speaking warranted a chorus of shushes from other audience members.
Mitski’s performance was captivating. She kept things simple, performing sans bass, drums and synth — though her studio albums feature a full band. Her setlist, a sheet of looseleaf paper, sat at at her feet, held in place by a rock. She stood in place for each song, making eye contact with audience members.
Mitski’s performance began with two popular songs from her 2014 album Bury Me At Makeout Creek, “Francis Forever” and “First Love/Late Spring.” One could clearly hear the audience eagerly singing along. She continued with the mournful “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” “Once More to See You” and “I Don’t Smoke.” Mitski’s music isn’t quite for dancing, but the crowd swayed and bopped along. Louder songs, like “Your Best American Girl,” lost some oomph with the downsized band, but were performed well nonetheless.
Mitski also brought irreverent chutzpah. At one point in she addressed the still-chattering portion of the audience. “I bet everyone who’s talking right now is really rich,” she said with a coy smile, meaning to grab the audience’s attention. The crowd chuckled, cheered and fell silent.
The penultimate song, “Last Words of a Shooting Star,” was a touching, elegiac piece that transitioned perfectly into “Class of 2013” from her 2013 album, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. The lyrics began softly: “Mom, I’m tired / Can I sleep in your house tonight?” Her sweet voice rang with vibrato and contrasted well with the raw sound of her electric guitar. The climactic high note filled the gallery and drew cheers from the audience.
Upon exiting, Mitski thanked the audience and commended English majors, who had their comprehensive exam the next morning, for coming to the show. The audience replied with cheers and a jubilant “Thank you!”