When Mitski wrapped up touring ‘Be The Cowboy’, the 2018 record that catapulted her to indie stardom, she announced she’d be bowing out of the music industry. Thank god she didn’t.
Returning to the stage with her comeback album ‘Laurel Hell’, Mitski remains a force, flitting between the intricately choreographed numbers of her recent albums and her frantic, guitar-driven earlier work.
Opening on ‘Love Me More’, its chorus begs in a way Mitski needn’t. When she hits the stage, the screams could rival those of pop superstars, not to mention the hours of queuing fans have done outside, wrapping the Roundhouse and into Camden. Although often nursing a difficult relationship with her fanbase – her reluctance to succumb to celebrity rivalling her fans’ adoration – there’s no doubting her connection to them on her return tour.
Still, there’s something detached about her performance. She rarely interacts with the audience besides to ask if they’re feeling good, and later to profess her love in return. Instead, she favours rattling through a set comprised of material spanning her decade long career. Particularly special moments like ‘Your Best American Girl’, which prompts swaying arms and phone lights in the air, and ‘Washing Machine Heart’, where Mitski invites everyone to join her in “live karaoke”, feel like Mitski breaking character and letting her guard down.
While a recent tweet about how she would prefer concert goers to not record entire songs ruffled a few feathers, it’s largely taken on board. Phones remain down for most of the show, aside from the performance of sleeper hit ‘Nobody’, which has everyone pulling out their devices.
Mitski’s shows deserve to be seen in real-time, though. There’s not really any other performer like her. From the way that she combines her signature avant grade choreography with erratic pacing around the stage, to the obvious emotional release of every song performed, often disappearing into a cloud of smoke when she finishes each one, everything feels intentional, but somehow intuitive too.
When we reach ‘Working For The Knife’, Mitski is completely obscured by smoke and pink light, a perfect nod to how she values her privacy for a track that expresses her hesitance to perform, and the one which ended her could’ve-been early retirement. By the end of the show, it seems like Mitski is glad she didn’t give it all up too.
With an even bigger show lined up tomorrow at Brixton Academy, and a slot supporting Harry Styles on his stadium tour later this year, Mitski might be shying away from the spotlight but she is firmly in it. And for good reason too. For all the Björk and Kate Bush comparisons, she’s in her own lane, and this is the most bonkers pop show there’s been in years.
When Mitski performs, it’s so clear the stage is where she’s meant to be. On ‘Working For The Knife’ she sings “I always thought the choice was mine, and I was right, but I just chose wrong”; there’s plenty of people who’d disagree with that tonight. She might’ve been a pioneer of the sad girl wave in music, but tonight she brings so much joy to the Roundhouse.