Review: Mitski Live at Massey Hall
For someone that has catapulted from a beloved and acclaimed indie rock artist to an icon of popular music over the past few years, Mitski is well aware of the position that she is in and she intends to make the most of it.
During her first of three sold out shows at Massey Hall in Toronto on Saturday night, she delivered a stunning performance that shifted between a search of something beyond herself and an exploration of the role of the performer. Currently out on the first full tour supporting her most recent album The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We (she did a brief run of very small acoustic shows a few months prior), Mitski opted for multiple nights in more intimate seated venues instead of booking the bigger venues that she could sell out just as easily, creating an environment that demanded your full attention and allowed the strength of her performance to truly shine.
The big entrance that is so often the most anticipated moment at a show happened after Mitski first took the stage. Opening with Everyone from her 2022 album Laurel Hell, she walked on very casually from the side, then throughout the first verse began to approach the curtains one would expect an artist to start their show behind that occupied the centre of the stage. Once she was behind them her silhouette was projected on to the curtains, turning her returned presence in to a second moment of anticipation, subtly poking fun at the idea of anyone’s presence being such a big deal. It wasn’t until she went in to her second song of the night, Buffalo Replaced, that the curtains dropped down, re-revealing herself to the crowd as well as a round pedestal that she puts herself on for the majority of her twenty five song performance. This pedestal served many purposes beyond being a design choice throughout the night; it put her at the centre of attention while surrounded by a seven piece band, it isolated her, and especially during the country-folk reworks of songs like Pink In The Night, I Don’t Smoke and Happy, exaggerated the artificial nature of performance and its relationship to entertainment.
An absence also frequently joined Mitski on her stage. She played invisible instruments, reached out and searched for things that weren’t there, would occupy one side of it while lighting the other side for something that isn’t there, and sometimes she even seemed to occupy the role of what she was missing, but could only bear to do so for moments at a time before it was just her again. During Heaven, she sought comfort from the lights pouring down on her pedestal, ending the song dancing with a spotlight as her companion. Then she collapsed to the ground, going in to I Don’t Like My Mind where the lights beamed up from the ground around the perimeter, trapping her inside as she woke up from the fantasy she was occupying moments before. By the end of the night she had played through all but one song from The Land is Inhospsitable and So Are We alongside a mix of both deeper cuts and fan favourites, ending the show with an encore of Nobody and Washing Machine Heart, songs from her 2018 album Be The Cowboy that would go on to change the trajectory of her career.
Mitski is truly a singular artist and performer, and the way she cares about her art comes through in every facet of her performance. Her performance is fully realized and brings a new type of life to her already incredibly strong discography; you often hear people say that certain songs are meant to be heard live, but Mitski’s performance feels so essential to these songs that you could say that actually, they’re meant to be seen live.
Words by Camryn Montebruno
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