Mitski in motion - photo by J Robbins
The first time I saw Mitski she was headlining a triple bill with PWR BTTM and Palehound at The Frequency. PWR BTTM were crazy, rambunctious, like bright, burning sparks flying everywhere. Palehound came on cheery and thoughtful, her songs like flickering candles throwing shadows and shedding light. When Mitski appeared, she was a beacon, strong, focused and intensely determined. The next time I saw her was at the High Noon, again it was as if she was singing to a balcony that was somewhere beyond the visible horizon. Mesmerizing in her potent concentration, Mitski seemed perched just this side of a break-through and, “Be The Cowboy,” was its name. Turning that ever-searching lighthouse inward and routing creative rages through an astonishingly zen presentation, Mitski unveiled a new version of herself to the sold-out Sylvee’s audience. Meta-Mitski exalted the body, dissected social dynamics and choreographed human appetites to the beat of a sublime digital universe.
The show started with Mitski’s slow patient walk to center stage, a subtle quasi-robotic precision to her steps, then, taking a seat on a plain white chair behind a plain white table, her prudent movements became more and more a deliberate exhibition. Emotions in motion as it were; her poise, deportment and posture eventually reflecting sacrifice, commitment and discipline. Enlightening the songs with action, the visual-musical synthesis groped broken utopias while muffling struggling hungers, elevating the physical into the sensual and the emotional into a mindful exposition depicting deep themes of self-image and identity. List-making lyrics referencing lipstick, high heels and make-up materialized as desires and regrets erupted in a fusion of jazz ballet and coy burlesque, transforming sexbot pinups into yoga-toned color guard. As the concert proceeded, the set list evolved into a living story detailing happiness and tragedy, pantomimes where mirrors became phones and pool cues became rifles. An attentive crowd spellbound by the limber actions and iron will both applauded furiously and held their breath. In a silent moment between songs, someone shouted, “Mitski, you’re so weird,” only to have another, smaller voice say, “thank you.” Maybe all this art-rock theatrics was thick with metaphors, stereotypes and symbolism, but personally the entire performance took my breath away, opened my eyes and had me thinking for days. Bravo, Mitski, Bravo.
Opener Jay Som’s bass-driven alt-pop ballads bounced in sun-riddled crispness belying a cynical distance which lent punk authority to the glistening delivery. Like Mitski, Jay Som enjoys a strong local fan-base built from their previous visits to Madison, steadily working their craft, refining their style and making great music.