Image: Mitski by Jane Gleeson.
Author: Paul Macadam
Mitski at Oxford Art Factory, Laneway Sideshow with support from Moaning Lisa, Monday February 4
The album version of Mitski’s ‘Me and My Husband’ begins with a sigh, and so does her performance tonight. A technical hitch with one of the guitar amps has caused a delay in proceedings. At first she is unmoved; her head bowed and stage lights shining around it. The delay crosses over from incidental to mildly awkward. Cheers and ‘wooo’s start up; the kind that a loving crowd will do when something isn’t quite going to plan. The amp continues its tantrum. Irked to have seen her carefully crafted introduction punctured, Mitski approaches the microphone, and exhales. “I guess I have to speak now.” Such was her hold on the audience that she could’ve said not a word more all night.
Moaning Lisa begin the evening. The Canberra quartet admit to nerves about opening for one of their idols, but deliver a compelling set. Highlights include the major-seventh heaven of ‘Good’, from last year’s EP Do You Know Enough?, and ‘Carrie (I Want a Girl)’ – the queer ‘Short Skirt/Long Jacket’ which places women to the front both in subject matter and in the mosh. Do consider seeing them next time they’re in town. The whole country ought to be listening to Moaning Lisa, and there’s every chance that becomes the case before too long.
What strikes you first if you’ve seen a Mitski show before is the change in band arrangement. Previously a trio with Mitski on bass, it’s now a five-piece where she focuses solely on singing, and a keyboardist covers the synth lines which were conspicuously missing last time around. You sense she feels liberated by the switch; now free to explore a language of gestures inaccessible when your hands are preoccupied. And the hands do plenty of talking. At first withdrawn behind her back, then alternating between delicate movements and violent flinging. She paces from one side of the stage to the other all throughout ‘Frances Forever’, elaborately bows in all four directions midway through other songs, and by the end of ‘Drunk Walk Home’ she’s wildly jumping around. It’s all a sight to witness. Choreographed with room for improvisation, her movements embody the ‘cowboy energy’ which inspired the latest album’s title.
Songs are picked from across the catalogue. Intriguingly, she plays slightly more from Puberty 2 than Be The Cowboy, perhaps due to the difficulty of moving some of the latter’s idiosyncrasies from studio to stage. Her band does so with aplomb; giving Mitski the figurative and literal room to express herself. Fans scream at the first note of most songs – the ‘Nobody’s and the deep cuts alike. She shakes her head at one point – a little bemused by all this adoration – but sensing the crowd’s warmth, tells a backstage anecdote about reimagining part of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’.
‘A Burning Hill’ closes the main section of the set. For one song only, she’s alone with a guitar. It brings the room to near-silence, and the sense of something special about to end. We know that Mitski is hitting new heights on record; tonight showed she’s rapidly growing as a performer, too.