25th September | Trinity
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
“I was so young when I behaved twenty-five,” Mitski sings out to the crowd on ‘First Love/Late Spring’, “Yet now I find I’ve grown into a tall child.” The crowd stare back, seemingly unmoved but faultlessly polite, filling all the gaps that traditionally punctuate live rock music with the appropriate levels of applause, some cheering, the occasional whoop. But as the artist tears through a set of world-beating guitar angst, the mood is sedate, contemplative; her art is consumed from a critical distance, as one might regard a smudged Rembrandt or a clumsy trapeze act, fascinated but ultimately disengaged. How did we get here?
The Trinity Centre itself is very much a work in progress at present, but that hasn’t detracted from an electric pre-gig atmosphere. In the smoking cage outside the venue, I speak to several fans about to see Mitski for the first time. It’s not surprising that she’s picked up a lot of new fans for this tour: while Bury Me at Make Out Creek and Puberty 2 could be both be regarded as substantive breakthroughs, new album Be The Cowboy has sprung new-found celebrity on a beloved cult artist. People are excited.
EERA are a great opener, rattling through a set that offers the same kind of bruised intimacy that we’ve come to expect from the headliner. A lot of their songs are lost in the milling about of people arriving at a gig, but that’s to be expected somewhat. Then the lights go down. Then Mitski takes the stage.
The band kick into ‘Remember My Name’ and it sounds exquisite, the kind of eureka moment that often comes from hearing a new album track live for the first time. It seems awfully still in the room, but the night is young, and my glass contains as much bourbon as I think they’ll serve me. By the time she’s ripped through ‘I Don’t Smoke’ and ‘Dan the Dancer’, though, it seems a little strange that no one’s even nodding their head. The Trinity Centre is a sea of calm in the face of an indie-rock blizzard battering down from the stage.
Mitski herself is typically flawless, pacing back and forth like a possessed inmate during ‘Francis Forever’, generating what little heat is felt in the room, pulling rock star poses for an incredible performance of ‘Your Best American Girl’. I sing along as quietly as I can. Two women are dancing right at the back, the only people I can identify as having a good time, and I suggest they try and spread the joy to the front row. It doesn’t go down well. I suppose it’s one of those nights.
After an unprecedented encore, the audience filter back out of the venue. Everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves, which is the main thing, but I wonder how it feels for a touring artist to pour her heart out on stage, to present emotional vulnerability to a room full of strangers – only to find that the faces gazing back are not those of tall children, but a cavalcade of mid-sized mortgage advisors.