Mitski asserts her voice in powerful performance at Delmar Hall
Mitski performed at Delmar Hall Sunday evening, April 7 with a passionate, idiosyncratic display of musical prowess. Backed by a full band, which included Sasami of Cherry Glazerr on synths, Mitski sang as she moved slowly around the stage in a spectacularly engrossing performance that stunned me to my core.
Onstage with a table and chair, Mitski walked and danced and ran; she rolled backwards onto the furniture; she walked around on all fours; she gazed at her hand and arms intently. It was almost as if we were watching her discover her own body and realize that she was human. She was completely detached from the audience and the band—she didn’t acknowledge our presence. I saw her smile once during the whole performance; the only time she broke character was to silently wave and mouth “thank you” to the audience.
Mitski performed the expected singles from her newest album, “Be the Cowboy,” a powerful tour-de-force that enshrines the painful pride of being alone. The theme of loneliness was reflected in her absolute isolation on stage; despite being in a room with hundreds of other people and on stage with a band, Mitski was fundamentally divided from everyone else.
Along with her more recent work, however, she played lesser-known songs off her earlier albums, songs I was surprised to hear her play live. “I Bet On Losing Dogs” is a deeply melancholy song, using a grim metaphor to express an even darker emotion, and one I would have expected to seem off-kilter in a concert setting. Yet Mitski’s live rendition of it was intimate and tender, and when the lights went off as the song ended I felt like my soul had been put in a meat grinder—in the course of that song alone, my heart had been broken and stitched back together.
The most remarkable elements in Mitski’s music go beyond the musical texture of her work: it is the devastating honesty behind the lyrics, the aching rawness of her lived experiences. She takes her pain and creates something magnificent with it. In a musical community that has pretty much consistently been dominated by white men, Mitski claims her space as a woman of color, with lyrics dealing with her personal experiences of exclusion and exploitation, as well as the fundamental human truths of heartbreak and loneliness. Through her music, Mitski asserts her voice and displays her most painful emotions with devastating beauty.
Onstage, we bore witness to Mitski declare her identity and her humanity, with an imperfect, honest rawness, pouring out her heart in a clear voice that brought me to tears (twice). At the end of the show she stepped offstage before the rest of her band, exiting the stage alone, just as she entered and occupied it. Mitski, alone, embittered but emboldened, carrying all of our hearts in her arms, walked away into the future.