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Concert review: Mitski brings her lyrics to life in sold-out Columbus show

Mitski performs to a sold-out crowd at the Columbus Athenaeum on Saturday night. Credit: Kaylee Harter

In her first acknowledgement of the audience, Mitski Miyawaki, better known simply as Mitski, looked around at the sold-out crowd at the Columbus Athenaeum Saturday night. She said the venue reminded her of a Victorian science festival, calling herself the showcased experiment.

For much of her performance, this analogy seemed appropriate as there seemed to be this disconnect between the performer and those watching her in the crowd, almost feeling as though there were this screen or window separating the two.

No matter the amount of attention or involvement Mitski had or even her own music — standing stoic, pacing or performing interpretive dances — the audience was enthralled.

The performance began as soon as the lights came down, the band took the stage without its lead singer. Mitski began on the side of the stage, mic in her hand singing “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart,” the first track off her 2013 record “Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.” She slowly walked to the white table and chair set up in the middle of the stage through the entirety of the song, failing to break character as the crowd went crazy.

Going through Mitski’s catalog, including tracks off the critically-acclaimed “Be the Cowboy,” which was released in 2018, the white table and chair became the focal point. As she performed each song, Mitski continued to move, climbing the table, laying down on top of the prop with her head towards the ceiling, even tipping the table over, all while singing these lyrically rich songs.

Through songs like “”Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “Remember My Name” from her latest record, this was very clear, using the instrumental breaks to perform these interpretative dances, focused mainly on her hands, even doing a somersault over the desk at one point. Through the first part of the set, she remained seemingly emotionally distant.  

But when she went to her older material, that emotion began to come out a bit more.

As she performed “First Love/Late Spring” off of her 2014 album “Bury Me At Makeout Creek,” Mitski began to pace around the stage, looking towards the white table in the middle, singing with this violent intensity “One word from you and I would jump off of this ledge I’m on,” breaking this level of emotional disconnect she had shown for the majority of the set prior.

But the first song Mitski really let herself loose on was the song “Townie,” saying with fervor “I am not going to be what my daddy wants me to be,” and throwing herself around during the 90s garage rock sounds of the instrumental, doing the same later in the set with the wonderful “Your Best American Girl.”

For the remainder of the show, Mitski felt more presence, swaying to the beat of “Nobody,” one of the singles off “Be the Cowboy.” But the height of the performance did not come until the final song of the regular set.

Having done the rest of her songs without an instrument, the band left the stage, leaving Mitski, holding a blue acoustic guitar. She sang a beautiful and haunting rendition of her song “A Burning Hill,” to a silent crowd that hung onto every lyric like it was its own.

Mitski’s opening act, Jay Som, despite being similar in sound at points — using guitar-heavy and lyrically based indie pop — did not use the same amount of dramatization than the headliner did.

A four-piece out of Los Angeles, Jay Som, with its lead vocalist playing the bass alongside two guitarists and a drummer, played its songs to a crowd that seemed familiar with the band’s work, singing along and responding positively to the cuteness of the lead singer, Melina Mae Duarte.

Coming out for her encore, Mitski’s first lyrics sung were appropriate. To a capacity crowd, some of which stood on a hard-wooden floor, she sang “Does it smell like a school gymnasium in here?” Honestly, at that point in the night, it may have. But with the performer Mtski proved to be, making her lyrics come to life visually, the crowd at the Columbus Athenaeum did not care one bit.

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