Mitski is not an extroverted performer. She acknowledges and appreciates her fans, but she doesn’t waste time on banter. There are no jokes in her shows. Instead, she pulls back the curtain and coaxes you — with velvety tones and incisive poetry — to enter the darkest parts of her mind, to swirl in her insecurities, to stand at her side as she vanquishes residual longing from love gone wrong. It’s a meticulously detailed exercise in vulnerability and cathartic release.
Roughly nine hours after she sent fans into a panic announcing her “last show indefinitely” on Twitter, the ornate indie rocker took the stage at ACL Live to tape her debut appearance on “Austin City Limits.” Dressed simply in a white crop top and black shorts with knee pads and dance shoes, she entered to dreamy snippets of a foreign melody. The stage was set with a white wooden table and chair, basic props that would be repurposed as a platform, a screen and a shield as the show progressed. Moving in a slow motion trance, she opened with the 2013 track, “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart.” She segued into “Why Didn’t You Stop Me,” off her latest release “Be the Cowboy,” gliding through a series of interpretive movements to accompany her tormented croon.
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Drawing heavily from her new album and her 2016 release “Puberty 2,” the setlist for the show was almost two dozen songs deep. Mitski twisted her body into shapes, in a moving meditation somewhere between yoga and dance, while inhabiting the emotion of the work.
She ached with yearning on “I Don’t Smoke.” Reaching her arms to the audience while allowing her silky tones to rise over unforgiving guitar chords, she worked herself to a peak, collapsing on the table as the song closed. She was defiant on “Townie,” allowing her movement to explode into a series of windmill jumps while declaring “I am not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be.” She went one step further on “Drunk Walk Home,” using the table as a barrier and transforming her mic stand into a gun while channeling the song’s dark fury. And on her knees on the table, she rode the gorgeous swells of sound to a climax on “Your Best American Girl,” before delivering a gut-wrenching performance of “Losing Dogs” that left her curled in a fetal position on top of the table.
She closed the main section of the performance with a powerful rendition of “Happy,” the lead track on “Puberty 2,” then returned moments later with an acoustic guitar for a solo performance of “A Burning Hill” before ending with “Two Slow Dancers” and “Carry Me Out.”
Near the end of her set, she paused to thank the audience for sharing the experience with her. Perhaps, to answer the panic sparked by her afternoon tweet (which she later walked back, noting that she would never quit playing music; she’s just exhausted from touring for five years straight), she said performing live was her “favorite thing to do” and it was amazing to be able to do it every night.
Mitski doesn’t make hooky radio jams, but profound emotional expressions that help you weather heartbreak, self-doubt and lonely nights. The show wasn’t a dance party, but an entrancing sway-with-your-friends-and-cry experience. A diverse cross-section of 20-something women dominated the front section of the crowd and they sang along to every word.
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