Mitski mystifies in Brooklyn
“Just how many stars will I need to hang around me to finally call it heaven?”
Mitski’s chilling vocals entranced a crowd of fans who hung on to every word of “Remember My Name,” a song from the indie superstar’s recent album, “Be The Cowboy.” Mitski, born Mitski Miyawaki, brought her stunning lyricism and performative expression to Brooklyn Steel for four sold-out shows, playing a setlist stacked with favorites from her five studio albums.
Mitski’s musical journey began six years ago at the State University of New York at Purchase (SUNY Purchase), where she became attuned to her passion to create and released her first two albums, “Lush” and “Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.” Her critical acclaim came with her third project, the traditional heart-wrenching effort “Bury Me At Makeout Creek,” released on the label Double Double Whammy in 2014. “Puberty 2,” her fourth album, was praised for nuanced emotional depth and heightened lyrical skills. In late August 2018, the Japanese-American songwriter released “Be The Cowboy” on independent record label Dead Oceans and could never have predicted where it would take her. Last week, album of the year lists gave “Be The Cowboy” stellar reviews: it received a coveted No. 2 from The New York Times and NPR. “This feels surreal,” she tweeted. “Thank you!!!”
On the “Be The Cowboy” tour, which consisted of 24 sold-out U.S. shows across the country, Mitski brought along Overcoats, SASAMI and Downtown Boys, the latter two of whom opened her string of Brooklyn Steel shows.
Headed by women of color, the tone of both bands was political and energetic, embracing the importance of representation in music and politics. The punchy, in-your-face acts exited, and the crowd began chattering in excitement for the main act. Crowding fans donned cowboy hats and merchandise, AirDropping Mitski memes to anyone who would accept them.
Conversations stopped and turned into cheers as Mitski sauntered onto stage, wearing a corset and dressed in all black. The stage was kept mostly dark, with the exception of three blank screens fixed behind her.
Projected on the screens were black and white optical illusions and fluttering rose petals as Mitski danced in perfect synchrony with her heartbreaking lyrics. “I want a kiss like my heart is hitting the ground / I’m holding my breath with a baseball bat,” she sang on “Townie.” Fans echoed the lyrics through their tears, but not for long. The snappy intro cymbals of “Nobody” sent concertgoers into a frenzy – the popular track has racked up over 7 million plays on Spotify and 2 million views on YouTube. The song’s disco influence made for a danceable few minutes as fans sang along. “I don’t want your pity / I just want somebody near me,” Mitski and her self-proclaimed lonely fans sang.
The prolific setlist boasted 25 songs from all of Mitski’s albums except “Lush,” and even included two solo performances of “A Burning Hill” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars.”
Mitski’s songwriting distinguishes her from the rest of her indie counterparts. Earlier this year Iggy Pop called her “the most advanced American songwriter.” Victoria Ruiz, the lead singer of Downtown Boys, gave Mitski’s songwriting similar praise during her band’s opening set.
Ending on “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart,” one of the songs she wrote while attending SUNY Purchase, Mitski had her audience clinging on to every last word. “Cause there’s nobody better than you,” she sang, as fans proclaimed their love for her. Waving as she exited the stage, audience members were left amazed and forever changed.
After opening acts SASAMI and Downtown Boys hosted a meet and greet with audience members, fans departed into the rain wearing their new “Be The Cowboy” merchandise and humming their favorite Mitski tunes.
Mitski told Pitchfork in July, “Even if it sometimes hurts, [the stress] doesn’t matter as long as I get to be a musician.” This sentiment of dedication seeps into her performance’s live vocals and sensual, timely dance moves. From reaching for her own hands to reaching out to the audience, Mitski is an expert at creating beauty from heartbreak.