On a Sunday evening, a line of unfamiliar faces is outside shielding themselves from residual rain as they wait for the doors of the Columbus Theatre to open. In Providence, Rhode Island, Mitski’s Bon Voyage tour is about to start, the first date of the mini-tour headlining smaller cities in the Northeast before she embarks on her Be The Cowboy tour.
There’s an almost dream-like quality to the entire night (apologies for the cliché). Sidney Gish makes an incredible first impression with her opening set, joking with the small audience that the setting reminds her of community theatre. It becomes a running joke, almost, throughout her set, and she’s not wrong — the bluish purple lighting gives the venue a Twin Peaks-esque atmosphere, but the seating arrangement emanates a true theatre setting, much smaller than most high school auditoriums.
When we finally see her, Mitski Miyawaki comes out with her hair in a bun, wearing a white button-down shirt. The opening, which I’d find out days later is track six, Remember My Name, of her anticipated record, Be The Cowboy, starts with a distorted electric guitar that glides so swiftly along the first lines: “I gave too much of my heart tonight / Can you come to where I’m staying / And make some extra love?” Without an introduction and minimal talking throughout the set, Mitski’s only vessel into who she is as a person is her art right in front of us. She has the ability to display everything and nothing, her poker face almost calculated as she moves in fluid ways, sometimes exuding the beauty of a dancer through interpretative motions. She sprawls herself on the floor and the lone chair in the middle of the stage; she lays on her back as she kicks her legs to the air as if she were the only person in the room.
The energy was alluring, with every person’s eyes drawn to her like we’re holding our last breaths. Sidney Gish wasn’t kidding about the room feeling like community theatre — it was far from your local DIY gig or a night out at the House of Blues. Mitski’s control of the energy in the room was a punch to the throat in the most flattering way possible. The storytelling in her lyrics makes you feel a certain ache in your gut, as if you’d lived a thousand lives before this, all while she narrates each and every one to a T. There’s a moment that physically gave me goosebumps — it’s at the very end of Geyser, when she begins to mimic the motion of digging into the ground frantically, a homage to the music video in which she does the same thing on a rainy beach. Where her short songs usually carry a narrative, Geyser is full of unadulterated emotion in the vaguest way. I think that’s one of my favorite things about her music — her art is simply art. There doesn’t have to be an interpretation or meaning to every single thing, but the eruption her performance gives transcends something just beyond goosebumps.
It’s a very specific, very personal, visceral feeling to watch a person you’ve never met pour their heart out on stage. For my case, as I was nearly choking back tears during Your Best American Girl, a fan favorite, it’s like gazing at a mirror. That’s not to say I’m essentially making powerful indie rock and touring the country, but as an Asian American girl, to bask in Mitski’s music as well as other associated artists like Jay Som and Japanese Breakfast (a holy trinity) is to feel full of something euphoric.
Here’s what I’ve noticed in the niche community between the Internet and my own peers who love Mitski: the most common thing is everyone’s love for astrology — Mitski’s too. One day in 2017, in which she tweeted about her Scorpio rising, I asked her about her moon sign. Lo and behold, she tweets back, saying she’s a Capricorn moon, and I’m losing my absolute mind. For those of you who don’t know, there’s more to zodiacs than your usual sun sign, there’s also the ascendant/rising (how you appear to others), and your moon sign (how you are inside/emotionally). The point here is that I share my Libra sun, Capricorn moon, and Scorpio rising with Mitski, so for this whole time I’ve been listening to her, I constantly get reminded of how similar we possibly are in an astrological level. Despite the honesty in her interviews and her songwriting, there’s a surface level magnetism to her that I can only aspire for in an older, more evolved version of myself. In a recent The Fader interview, Mitski says, “I think Björk said in an interview that all of her albums are just exaggerations of a specific part of herself. I think it’s like that for me.” This shows through her art, in which her record and performance clearly displays her multiplicity.
Mitski glides on the stage like she’s alone in her bedroom, barely singing to the audience but more so to herself — performing like she’s in a dream as she wraps the mic cord around herself. It’s something recognizable, to see someone unravel themselves in an almost mind-numbing way. The singer casts a spell on the room as we watch her like voyeurs — especially shown in the lack of phone screens glowing throughout the audience.
The last moments of the show get stripped bare. The band does their instrumental take-off as Mitski leaves us with an impromptu intermission, to which she comes back with her blue acoustic guitar, and suddenly, it’s just her. More tears come (of course), specifically during A Burning Hill, a bittersweet ballad off of her last record, Puberty 2. She sings, “Today I will wear my white button-down / I’m tired of wanting more / I think I’m finally worn” while in her white button-down, and it’s like the stage is the audience’s own diorama. In the tiny venue with just her blue guitar, lights down low as everyone sits in silence, listening to Mitski has the same exact effect as listening to her record for the first time just after midnight. It’s just her voice, you, the glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling, and whatever multitude of feelings that burn in your chest.
One of the very few things she says throughout the entire show is a thank you to the audience at the end of her set, a humbling and quietly thoughtful exit as if it were her first show ever. There’s not really a way to put into words an experience that sticks to you like honey, how fast you’re snapped back to reality once the lights come back on and the audience gets up from their seats, but it’s definitely an experience I’ll never forget.
Header photo by Em Gray.