Photography by Aleiagh Hynds
Photography by Sam Wachs
When: Tuesday, July 26th
Mitski’s focus, her attention to detail, and her commitment to performing will always be unmatched. It cannot be conveyed through words, although I’ll try. And it can’t be understood on a friend’s camera roll or a Youtube video. Her unflinching and eminent presence can only be truly appreciated in person.
Her performance at Roadrunner felt as though she equipped herself with a portal that sucked up every shriek and “I love you!” from the crowd, compacted it into dissolvable molecules, and fired it back in all directions within seconds. She didn’t do this through words, though. She never spoke once between songs until after she completed her encore. But she did this with both tact and compassion; never coming across — or anywhere near — cold or distant.
For Mitski, her time on stage became time as a vessel of song and nothing else. Her energy didn’t go to waste on any awkward “Thanks for coming,” or “Here’s a new one…” The lack of casualness in her performance proved a clear decision to remain in a world that she created through costume, song and dance.
MITSKI’S ERA-INSPIRED LOOK
The crowd screamed at a figure coming out from the dark: Mitski — wearing a long, silk green dress with a long white veil attached at the back. She also had knee pads and dance shoes on, preparing herself for her choreography. She looked like a musical goddess or muse, a conduit and creator for her art.
The look Mitski wore fit neatly into the classical period of music she laid on top of her indie-rock roots in Laurel Hell. With her outfit, she embodied her latest record.
Before performing “Working for The Knife,” Mitski took off the bottom half of the dress, including the veil she had been wearing. And then, the show really began.
MITSKI’S MUSIC AND MOVES
Everybody knew every word to every song. If you mixed up a verse or forgot a pre-chorus, it seemed you could be shunned from fandom for life. A kind of cult-ish atmosphere emerged once Mitski took the stage, and in a sea of fishnet leggings and heavy eyeliner, you wanted to know how to swim.
Mitski began the show with “Love Me More,” a little bit slower than usual. Her gestures were at first more subdued than they became later on. At the end of the song, when she repeated “clean me up,” she pretended to clean herself frantically. That’s when the choreography began to click for me — it’s a way for her to emphasize and embody her music. And it’s something I’ve never seen an artist do.
AN EXPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE OF “WORKING FOR THE KNIFE”
Following her change in outfit for “Working For the Knife,” Mitski expressed her true feelings about the music industry. On stage, she proceeded to offer nothing but a physical demonstration of those feelings, with even more clarity than before.
With her microphone — the only instrument she bore throughout the entire concert — inserted into its stand, Mitski lugged it behind her back and dragged it across the stage as though it weighed well over a hundred pounds. Removing the microphone from its stand once again, she plunged it into her heart in a dramatic fit of devotion. On stage and in person, we saw Mitski truly working for the knife. She even did her signature pelvis-tapping move, which has made its way across TikTok over the past few months.
“I WILL,” “I BET ON LOSING DOGS,” AND MORE BELOVED OLDER SONGS
“Working for the Knife” was quickly followed by “I Will,” a song from 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek. The latter triggered screams of joy from just the first few bars of the bassline. Her choice of material was fruitful and welcoming. If you didn’t know one of her newer songs, an older gem appeared just around the corner. This variety continued until the show’s end.
The crowd erupted at “I Bet on Losing Dog” — the repetitive lyric “my baby” ringing out across Roadrunner as everyone sang collectively. Although one of her saddest songs, Mitski dove even deeper into the performance. She kicked and punched at an invisible force. Her sadness? A former lover? Who knows; but it was powerful.
“I Don’t Smoke” got its rock-edge in before the methodical clapping of “Washing Machine Heart” began. Not a single person didn’t sing along. In fact, so many people joined in that Mitski didn’t even sing the first verse or chorus, she just did her choreography. At “why not me,” she emphasized the lyrics as a plea, throwing her arms out to the invisible recipient of the song.
“ME AND MY HUSBAND” AND MITSKI’S INTERPRETIVE DANCE MOVES
“Me and My Husband” — already reliant on a drum beat — became more syncopated in this live version, giving the audience more time to digest every moment. Lots of her body movements suggested imprisonment and performance in a marriage.
Watching her interpret her own songs was an impressive aspect of her artistry. As an audience member, I paid more attention to the lyrics as she timed certain phrases with certain movements. For example, at the chorus, when she sang, “Me and my husband we’re sticking together,” she showed off an invisible wedding ring with one hand and crawled her other hand up the extended arm like a spider.
“DRUNK WALK HOME,” “NOBODY,” AND MORE MOMENTS OF ENTHUSIASTIC CHOREOGRAPHY
“Drunk Walk Home” continued the enthusiastic choreography. She started by laying on the floor, then got up to shake and punch repeatedly in different ways and directions. Her guitarist battled it out at the back of the stage, and it made Mitski feel punk, if only for a moment.
At the end of the song, a white light shined on Mitski at her microphone. “Nobody” began to play, one of her more pop-sounding songs, but her movements brought it more melancholy. At the chorus, her arms mimicked the way a clock moves; it was a mesmerizing dance as I tried to track her arms. When she mournfully repeated “nobody” and the music faded, she searched the stage for somebody to love until she stopped and the white light shined on her longing face before going black. “Stay Soft” came across as more danceable than ever, and “Should Have Been Me” transported the crowd into the Baroque era with flaming harpsichord and bouncing drums.
THE CLOSERS— “YOUR BEST AMERICAN GIRL” AND “TWO SLOW DANCERS”
From the first note, I heard gasps and cheers at the sound of “Your Best American Girl.” Since it’s one of her most emotional and popular tracks to date, it makes sense that it garners this kind of response. I honestly couldn’t remember her dancing as much for this one because it was so easy to get lost in the song.
During “Two Slow Dancers,” her final song before her singular encore, the lyric “It would be a hundred times easier if we were young again,” was, rather ironically, sung to a room full of young people, with the occasional dad dragged into the mix.
As audience members turned on their phone flashlights for her closing song and began to wave them gently, the chatter inside Roadrunner’s concrete walls vanished. This might have been the most powerful moment during Mitski’s performance. Screaming, sobbing, and singing along conveyed a whole lot about Boston’s love for Mitski, but dead silence somehow said even more. This total focus from every distracted screen-ager and unsuspecting parent showed how much we appreciated Mitski and what she had given us.
“Two Slow Dancers” quickly became emblematic of the highest form of flattery; by the end of her set, every single audience member became as present and focused as Mitski.
As a final gesture, she put her hands to her heart and then threw out her arms to the crowd — giving her heart to us, her fans. No words were needed.