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Mitski at the Columbus

Beyond

Mitski at the Columbus

Ben Williams

Review and Cover Photo by Ben Williams

When Mitski stepped on stage at the Columbus Theater, I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was slightly disappointed. No drums, no bass, just a small Fender amp and a guitar sitting in the middle of the enormous stage. How could she possibly articulate the power of a track like “Townie” without the drive of a rhythm section?

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In a recent interview with Gigwise, Mitski Miyawaki criticized the pressure for musicians to put on a mask of effortlessness to appear cool: “I don’t understand why that’s not celebrated – why passion, and grit, and reaching for something mysterious and beautiful regardless of all the hard things that come with it, isn’t fucking 'cool.’”

If Bury Me at Makeout Creek exudes passion and grit, then Mitski’s bare-bones performance at the Columbus bleeds it. For an artist who’s been hopping from country to country for the past few months (she had just flown in from Iceland), none of the exhaustion showed. Her guitar, tuned to Drop D for just about every song, fully captured the viscerality of her songwriting. As Mitski recently told Aural Wes, “I think people understand things more when it’s connected to their body; it’s visceral. When you’re expressing love, it’s hard to understand it unless it’s connected to something compound and real.”

Bury Me at Makeout Creek isn’t just visceral in the sense of the songs’ raw power—it’s very much an album about the body itself: “I’m not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be / I wanna be what my body wants me to be” Mitski sings on “Townie,” “I don’t know what to do with you / I don’t know where to put my hands” on “Francis Forever,” and “I will wash your hair at night / And dry it off with care / I will see your body bare” on I Will. The body not only becomes a major problem in of itself, but also a metaphor.

What’s being buried at Makeout Creek? It’s not so much a physical body as a body that has had certain meanings attached to it, a body that needs to define itself, but doesn’t get to. Stripped down to just a guitar and vocals, Mitski’s performance at the Columbus demonstrated this sheer vulnerability in the same way each track on the album does. No pretense of effortlessness. No embellishments. The grounding of Mitski’s guitar work let her voice command the melodies that she executes so well.

Bury Me at Makeout Creek is also a bit tongue in cheek; after all, the album title is a quote from The Simpsons. Millhouse—Bart Simpson’s best friend and an adorable nerd—says the line after his first kiss, thinking he’s going to die. Regardless of the candy store version of love that Millhouse embodies, Mitski seems to deal with love in a mature way that few genuine artists are willing to, fearing the clichés and superficiality of mainstream pop. “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony,” she sings on the chorus of Townie. The body becomes a way to understand life, especially love.

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Mitski played for only an hour, flawlessly transitioning from song to song. They all bled together, connected by Mitski’s raw guitar playing. The absence of a backing band forced you to focus on Mitski herself, just the voice. Relistening to the album afterwards, I found myself trying to pretend the other instruments weren’t there. But after seeing Mitski live, you can really hear the grit that went into the album.