Review: Mitski @ The Black Cat
Mitski brought her live show to DC’s Black Cat on November 18, coming to the city for a second time in the five months off the success of her fourth (and best) album, Puberty 2.
Puberty 2 carries depression, isolation, and low self-worth amidst Mitski’s direct-yet-poetic lyrics. Despite its heavy themes, sadness is presented matter-of-factly; it’s a bleak album presented with maturity. In response to a fan on Twitter jokingly asking if Mitski could perform at her wedding, she responded: “I have no appropriate songs for a wedding unless you're marrying the abyss.”
Opening acts Weaves and Fear of Men played energetic sets with the house lights still on, but the vibe shifted before Mitski’s slot as two lamps were set up on stage and the rest of the Black Cat fell dark. A hard drum beat opened the set and the band dove into Puberty 2’s “Dan the Dancer.” However, as Mitski sang the opening lines, her vocals were lost in the instrumentation. Members of the crowd eagerly pointed to the ceiling to signal that they couldn’t hear her. The technical issue was quickly resolved to joyous cheers and the rest of the night went on without a hitch.
The band rolled through a setlist that borrowed equally from Puberty 2 and 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, with two offerings from pre-breakout album Retired From Sad, New Career in Business. The live drums and guitar added an upbeat punch to many of the songs, but Mitski sang with the same poise and seriousness that she brings to her studio recordings, not allowing the songs to stray too far from their natural form. The crowd reacted strongest to tracks from Makeout Creek, dancing and singing along to choruses such as, “One word from you and I would jump off of this ledge I’m on baby” from “First Love/Late Spring,” bringing an weirdly positive energy to lyrics about an unhealthy relationship.
The show ended with three solo acoustic songs: Puberty 2’s “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” and “A Burning Hill” and “Class of 2013” from Retired From Sad. Without the backing band, the Black Cat was eerily hushed and Mitski’s voice pierced the air with newfound clarity. Her vocals were the most prominent they had been all night and she effortless floated between a fragile delivery and all-out wailing, at one point screaming into her guitar during “Class of 2013,” as she did in her NPR Tiny Desk performance. The rawness of these last three songs made for the most moving portion of the night.
Despite the brevity of the show, I found myself very appreciative of what Mitski had given us: a genuine performance of two very powerful albums. She let her music do the talking, only addressing the crowd twice and playing her final song without the charade of leaving the stage for an encore. Even with newfound popularity, Mitski had no intentions of using her elevated platform for anything other than her art. She was thankful for the crowd’s support and the crowd was thankful for her music.