Sometimes the process of making art involves balancing the spectacle and the personal. How much do you reveal and how much do you allow yourself to retain?
For Mitski, I imagine it’s become a process — and one that has been refined over the last few releases and subsequent tours. Each performance is an emotional catharsis, reflecting lyrics about love, hurt, and even growing older. Take, for example, “And the ground has been slowly pulling us back down / You see it on both our skin / We get a few years and then it wants us back” from “Two Slow Dancers.”
Mitski is in the midst of a second round of touring for the brilliant Be The Cowboy released last year — and she performed at Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Friday. Although the stage is markedly different this time around, the emotional foundation to the performance hasn’t changed at all.
Stream Be The Cowboy by Mitski on Spotify:
Last year when Mitski and her band came through Washington, DC the stage was laid out with panels that had images projected behind the performers. This time around, the weight of the performance was focused on the middle of the stage.
In front of a very packed and very enthusiastic audience in Baltimore on April 19, Mitski started the evening with the staccato notes of “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart” from her 2013 LP, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, as she walked on stage, slowly, deliberately then pausing before a table at the middle of the stage. As she flipped her legs up and moved around the table, the crowd was pulled into the music. And the one thing I’ve noticed about her performances is, in fact, how that emotion is shared by those in the crowd — like living through Mitski’s performance.
Following up with “Why Didn’t You Stop Me” and the beautiful and heartbreaking “Blue Diner,” both from Be The Cowboy, Mitski portrayed feelings of exhaustion, pleading, frustration, sorry, and even joy, as she used the table at the center of the stage as her foil — picking it up, pushing against it, turning it around, and lying on top of it. And as she performed through songs like “Francis Forever,” “Dan the Dancer,” and crowd-favorites “Nobody” and “Best American Girl,” she formed a unmistakable connection with this crowd. Changing up near the end of her set, Mitski performed “A Burning Hill” alone with an acoustic guitar to a rapt, and amazingly silent, audience — fully engrossed in the song. It was a brilliant and sad and joyous and, well, a beautifully human performance and one of the best you’ll see. Period.
Mitski continues her tour through the summer. Definitely check out her schedule here. Here are some photos of Mitski performing at Rams Head Live on April 19, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy David LaMason.