Review by Michael O'Neill
A concert hall is not where most people expect to spend their Halloween, and yet there I was, seated at the Columbus Theatre, waiting for the first show of Mitski’s second round of tour dates behind Puberty 2 to begin. The concert was held above the main theatre in a walled-off mezzanine, a compact space complete with gaudy red seating and an intimate atmosphere. Several concert-goers came in costume, with everyone from Snow White to Ken Bone in attendance. The vast majority of the crowd was made up of college-age fans to the point where one could reasonably be convinced the show was being held at Brown University itself - a testament to Mitski’s ability to express the thoughts and concerns of young people.
British experimental pop outfit Fear Of Men opened the show and held their own as a compelling live act. Singer Janet Weiss spent much of the show cloaked in green light, giving her an almost reptilian glow as she slinked her way around the stage. The band churned through brooding, synth-laden atmospherics (“Vitrine”) and more driven indie-based songs (“Island”) with ease and poise. The highlight of their set came with Fall Forever track “Sane,” as drum flurries and pulsating keyboards unsettled Weiss’ floaty vocals. “It’s in your eyes when you are perfectly sane,” she sang, first from atop an amplifier and later while contorting her body to the beat.
Mitski and her band came to the stage not long after Fear of Men left it. Setlist opener “Dan the Dancer” was gifted an extended intro as the band worked out a technical issue, the wait making the meat of the song even more satisfying. Mitski herself took on bass duties in addition to lead vocals, accompanied only by a drummer and single guitarist. The setlist struck a nice balance between tracks from this June’s Puberty 2 and older albums like Bury Me at Makeout Creek. From the latter, Mitski exhibited her rock chops through songs like “Townie” and “I Will.” “Drunk Walk Home” provided one of the night’s more cathartic moments: “Fuck you and your money!” she shouted with authority, before bursting into ferocious screams at the song’s climax. From Puberty 2, Mitski and her bandmates managed to capture the slow-burning builds of both “I Bet on Losing Dogs” and “Once More to See You” perfectly.
Throughout the show, Mitski kept the chitchat to a minimum, barely ever venturing beyond short quips of graciousness and humility. Her one extended message for the crowd playfully warned us to be careful on Halloween because “the gate between our world and the spirit world is especially thin tonight.” Other than that, she let her powerful lyrics speak for themselves, as they do on Puberty 2 centerpiece “Your Best American Girl.” The quiet acoustic intro and Mitski’s hushed vocal eventually made way for an explosive chorus, with guitars, bass, and crash cymbals all colliding at high volumes to create an impenetrable wall of sound. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do / I think I do,” Mitski cried, with even more passion and angst than comes through on the record.
After pushing through a few more tracks, Mitski disappeared backstage for a quick respite before returning with an acoustic guitar in hand, dismissing her bandmates for the night. The two-song encore captured both sides of Mitski’s music. First, she gave a fiery performance of the frantic, smothering “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars.” “Well I better ace that interview / I should tell them I’m not afraid to die,” she wailed, strumming away violently. Then, she ran through the brief, muted Puberty 2 closer “A Burning Hill.” Donning a white button-down similar to the one mentioned in the song’s lyrics and worn on the album cover, Mitski quietly plucked the notes behind her nearly-whispered vocals: “I’m tired of wanting more,” she sighed, before finally resolving to “love some of the littler things.” A standing ovation brought her out for one last song, a rendition of the acoustic Bury Me at Makeout Creek finisher “Last Words of A Shooting Star.” After singing the closing lyric “goodbye” and strumming her last chord, Mitski leaned back into the microphone and offered a second, more full-blooded “goodbye” before disappearing backstage once again.