Mitski Miyawaki is just like you and I. Maybe you and I don’t manage to sell out a majority of shows on national tours with Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som—her Chicago performance at Lincoln Hall sold out nearly three weeks before the date—but she is sincere and earnest, offering examples of the human experience without frills.
Because of my work schedule, I get to Lincoln Hall after the show has started. The crowd is quiet and I find a place in the back with enough elevation that I get a decent view of the stage. I’m not sure how much I’ve missed. A handful of people dot the stage, prepping for the next set, but the crowd doesn’t have that anxious buzz of anticipation. I assume I just missed Jay Som, but no, Mitski appears on stage with her guitar. Quietly tuning. Dressed in black jeans and a gray long sleeve shirt, she appears underrated. It’s just her and her drummer tonight. They’re positioned parallel to each other on either side of the stage front.
Once she starts playing, everyone seems either completely rapt or uninterested. From my vantage point, the audience is motionless except for a tapping foot or bobbing head. If the show wasn’t completely sold out, I would assume that they had all wandered into Lincoln Hall unknowingly. In the space leading up to the June release of her newest album: Puberty 2, the 24-year-old garnered thoughtful reviews from the likes of NPR and the New York Times. It seems unlikely that the audience would be here unwittingly—they were just polite.
As she finished her first song, “Townie,” off of her 2014 release, Bury Me At Makeout Creek, there's an audible relaxation. People let out cheers. Someone shouts, "be my best friend," and then a faint, “you’re so pretty.” There's a mysterious breeze that keeps catching a lock of her hair just so. It mimics moments in her music video for “Your Best American Girl.” There's smoke and blue and orange lights. It's all slow and cinematic without many peaks and valleys in her demeanor. After the second song, she looks up from her guitar and quietly says "hi, I'm Mitski. Thank you for being here." And goes right back into what she's playing. Typically, I would find this lack of chatter alienating, but here it seems honest. The crowd is charmed by every word she utters, even if it's a simple, "thank you so much." People cheer for this one.
Her cover of Calvin Harris’ “How Deep is Your Love” is enough to put you in a trance. Imagine a scene in a show or movie where someone is moving slowly through a packed club with strobe lights flashing, looking for someone. This cover would be playing in the background. This suggestion is funny to me in hindsight because I just watched the music video that goes along with the original song—it involves someone wandering through a packed club. Maybe I missed my calling.
Her volume creeps up as her set list grows. By song eight—a biting rendition of My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars, lyrics like "I want to see the whole world. I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent," have us all hooked. It’s like she really gets us. And she’s loud in her understanding—her voice is elegantly grating at top volume. She’s shouting to be heard. We’re always shouting to be heard.
Naturally, seeing her live was bound to be different than listening to her songs off of my computer, but in some instances, it's the first time I'm really comprehending some of the lyrics. In "I don't smoke" I finally hear "I am stronger than you give me credit for." Her voice arcs over the words and my heart gives a little pang like I forgot to turn the stove off or my crush finally texted me back.
The first time I hear the audience is in the middle of "Your Best American Girl." Their voices are faint, but clear and even—a whole room of people who have had their own, "I think I'll regret this" moment.
She smiles and thanks the audience for listening so politely, but also for letting her work be a part of our lives. I want to yell back, thanking her for making music that feels like a part of my life. Instead someone yells, “stay in Chicago forever.” She laughs and pauses, “what if I said okay?”
Her drummer leaves the stage before the penultimate song, leaving her to finish out the set even more quietly than she began it.
"I'm so tempted to say I love you, but I don't know you,” Mitski says. “I feel a lot of love for you. I don't want to seem insincere.”
She concludes the night with “Last Words of a Shooting Star,” a song about the end of things—the last word is actually “goodbye.” And then she’s done. One more “thank you,” and she exits the stage. The lights come up and everyone is blinking like it was all one brief, hushed dream. We didn’t even get a chance to say thank you.
Mitski at Lincoln Hall
2. First love/Late Spring
3. I Want You
4. Thursday Girl
5. Cover of "how deep is your love?"
6. Once more to see you
7. Francis Forever
8. My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars
9. I don't smoke
10. Best American girl
11. I Will
12. Drunk Walk Home
13. A Burning Hill
14. Last Words of a Shooting Star