Mitski: A Melodic Congregation for Mission Creek
by Vivian Le and Grace Oeth
Long after sunset, the city of Iowa City gathers at the Englert Theatre to be witnesses of Mitski. She slowly enters onto a soaking blue stage—a table and chair waiting for her. Bearing a plain white tee, black biker shorts, knee pads, and ballet flats, her body is ready to move. Bruises are blooming in the middle of her thighs. She moves to the rhythm of her first song, “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart,” her gestures calculated. Quickly after her first few songs, she addresses the energized crowd: “I’m not going to talk much during the set, but I wanted to break the fourth wall to thank you.” We are at the theater, ready for a show.
Mitski is as much of a performance artist as she is a musician. Expressing a feminine physicality, her body becomes a weapon by using both subtle and theatrical choreography. She is an entire symphony, an acting troupe, the director to her own play. At one point, she scales the table, shooting her legs straight into the air like cannons, screams emanating from the audience. The lights radiate from the stage, changing rapidly, creating a colorful chaos. She stands still, singing a tranquilizing ballad. Is she breathing? Laying on her side, eyes fixed forward, she commands the onlookers to listen and gaze back at her. She has our attention.
From “I Don’t Smoke,” she propels into “First Love/Late Spring.” It begins with its signature bass line. The audience, completely silent, waits for the salvation of her prose. The people anticipate her words, her wisdom. Even if they know the words, they wouldn’t dream of interfering. As the song progresses, she breaks away from the table and begins to pace—across the stage, around the table in a circle. The people look on as Mitski descends into spiral. It’s mesmerizing, hypnotic— it is an anomaly.
“If you came here as part of the festival and didn’t know who I am, I’m so sorry. This is the show,” she declares.
The Japanese-American Indie artist is the headlining act for Iowa City’s annual premiere arts festival, Mission Creek, for 2019. With a concentrated arts community, the small Iowa City theatre is packed with Mitski fans and enthused strangers alike, but more so of the former. The singer-songwriter has the audience wrapped around her fingers.
Throughout the act, Mitski wrestles with the stage—and triumphs. She topples the table, and rocks it back and forth to the roaring beat of “Geyser.” She places the table back down, wraps herself around it and the chair for “Lonesome Love,” reclaiming the things that once restricted her. The innocent melody is cut with a brazen proclamation. Nobody fucks me like me.
The audience is enthralled. People cry, holding their hands to their mouths, clasping their slack jaws, unsure if this is truly happening. During the song, “Drunk Walk Home,” the voices of the audience rise to the beat like an army called to war. They join Mitski’s chant, “Fuck you and your money!” The singer has us all in the palm of her hands.
Suddenly, she exits the stage. The table and chair are taken away. The band leaves. Mitski returns to the stage by herself, only holding an acoustic guitar. The beginning of “A Burning Hill,” descends. Alone, she sings to us. Alone, she serenades the importance of the little things and how to find the positives in such a negative world. She becomes silent, she departs.
The audience claps and roars in praise—worshipping her. Quickly, Mitski returns with her pianist, and as the first notes of “Two Slow Dancers” flood the theatre, tiny whispers escape the crowd exclaiming, “oh fuck.” Through the melancholy chords, everyone sings together, feeling the same, crying the same in vigilant prayer. Before the very end, she says into the mic, “One more song, and then it’s finally goodbye… Until next time.” Mitski thanks the crowd, and a chorus of voices thanks her back.