Mitski does not begin her set by addressing the audience. She lowers her gaze and sighs a series of angelic “oohs” over crashing cymbals that blend into one big whisper. The patron saint of all those who find adulthood just as angst-filled as teenage-hood (minus the romanticism) welcomes her devotees with what might come off as cool detachment. Or maybe she’s just working up the nerve to acknowledge the 700 or so people staring at her.
“Half of me wishes I could see your faces,” Mitski half-joked after playing slow-building Bury Me at Makeout Creek favorite “Francis Forever,” tentatively sung along to by the crowd. “Half of me is glad I can’t.”
I saw Mitski open for Elvis Depressedly at LA’s the Echo last July. Fast forward almost exactly a year to July 7 and she’s not only headlining but also performing at the Echo’s larger sister venue, the Echoplex, behind her June-released album Puberty 2. I feel like a proud mom.
After opening with upbeat cuts from Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Mitski slowed it down with “I Want You” from her second album Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. What is on record a sway-worthy, plaintive organ-filled ballad starts this way live also. Mitski mourned in a voice quiet and sad; an impossible love.
But as the final pre-chorus hits, a tremor of cymbals triggered the song’s explosive transformation into a sad monster both sad and searing fueled by iron heavy guitar. Mitski’s voice was mournful, but powerful too. The crowd headbanged in approval.
Mitski then dove into new material, which I wished she would’ve played more of. The reverential tone returned with “Thursday Girl” as a hymn-liked synth melody filled the room.
“Glory, glory, glory to the night,” she intoned as rays of heavenly pink light streamed across the stage and disco ball flecks (from not one but TWO disco balls) circled the space.
The highlight of the night was not a Mitski song, but it might as well have been. In her hands “How Deep is Your Love,” a fairly generic Calvin Harris EDM song, became something smoldering but also slightly unhinged. Neither bland Top 40 hit or straightforwardly sexy rawk jam. Mitski cooed over deep bass strums and a half as fast beat with intriguing spurts of pat-pat-pat high hat and dramatic cymbal crashes. But a ragged edge of desperation in her voice threw the song perfectly off kilter.
“Who here feels like it’s prom with the disco balls?” said Mitski after playing “Once More to See You,” a Ronettes-esque slow dance ditty grown weary and melancholic. “Really [this] is the prom we should have had. But no person who had a good prom ever becomes a good adult, so it’s fine.” The audience laughed.
The energy picked up again with the singer’s punk-as-hell ripper, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” a live staple since at least her last tour that happily made it onto Puberty 2.
“I better ace that interview/I better ace that interview/I should tell ‘em that I’m not afraid to diiieee,” spat Mitski with a resigned sneer and slight shake of her head, conveying a relatable discontentment with/anxiety over typical expectations of achievement and financial stability. Growing older doesn’t make life any easier.
“I love you!” shouts someone in the crowd as Mitski is about to play “Your Best American Girl.”
“That’s so kind of you,” she responds. “You don’t know me, but thank you. I get that you really love my music.”
Mitski is always honest, not afraid to verge on the brutal side. With this honesty comes vulnerability, and that’s most apparent during her encore. Her band mates leave the stage and it’s just her and her bass. She plays “A Burning Hill” and “Last Words of A Shooting Star,” and her voice sounds so sad and so beautiful, fragile but strong at the same time, and everyone stands frozen, mesmerized.
Mitski shows are different than a lot of shows. She doesn’t leave the stage for the encore. She doesn’t dance around or encourage the audience to sing along or jump into the crowd. She performs on her own terms. A Mitski show is an opportunity to witness her transfigure raw emotions into compelling and complex (yet accessible) songs like an alchemist, to be transfixed by her heartbreaking voice and receive nuggets of wisdom when her Twitter account just isn’t enough. To be reminded that in a lot of ways becoming an adult actually makes life harder, and it’s okay to feel that way.
“I’ll love some littler things,” sings Mitski at the end of “On A Hill.” Sometimes that’s all we can do. ✿