– THE RUBY LOUNGE, MANCHESTER –
New York-based musician Mitski’s first Manchester show was as recent as October last year at the Deaf Institute, but it seems she enjoyed herself as she’s back in town already. Daylight hours today were all clear-skied and spring-like, so maybe she made the most of the day with a mooch around the Northern Quarter and found some familiarity there with parts of her hometown. Tonight’s show at The Ruby Lounge, which has a slightly larger capacity than Deaf, points perhaps to a modest growth in Mitski awareness in these parts, but I heard that she has just sold out a venue as sizeable and legendary as The Fillmore in San Francisco, a forthcoming date on the US leg of the tour in support of last year’s Puberty 2 record.
Mitski’s music is sometimes discordant and ear-splitting but rarely any less than highly melodic, and I’ve been enchanted for a few months now with half a dozen or so of her most raw and relatable songs. As usual with me I’ve been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, and although their respective music is not similar for the most part, their songs have become intertwined in my mind in some way, and I’ve begun to imagine Mitski, at this point just four albums into a recording career she started in 2012, going on to tread an adventurous and uncompromising creative path like Mitchell did through the 1970s. Maybe Mitski will stick to the indie-rock style she has explored on her two most recent records, but I doubt it. I sense a restless and experimental spirit.
Tonight’s band is a three-piece with Mitski on bass and vocals accompanied by fellas on electric guitar and drums. What’s wonderful early on is the realisation of just how much more aural pleasure can be had by hearing these songs played live in a room. The records sound fine, but there’s something really special going on here in The Ruby Lounge. Mitski’s vocals and the drums are afforded lots of room to dominate the mix, and it’s almost magical to me to hear the songs this way. Just as I’m thinking about how effortless her vocals sound and how it’s maybe her grounding in classical music that means she appears able to sing every night of the year and do no damage to her voice, Mitski smiles after a song: “I love singing!” She recalls when, at the age of 16, she would do karaoke almost every night. Well, she does have Japanese roots.
The memory of the hushed beat of the studio version of ‘Drunk Walk Home’ is obliterated under the colossal pounding of its live incarnation, and the sight of Mitski yelling and screaming into the mic at the song’s climax transforms its visceral impact. Recent singles ‘Happy’ and especially ‘Your Best American Girl’ are predictably big crowd-pleasers, with the audience taking over lead locals for part of the latter song’s first verse.
For me, though, the best is saved for last as the fellas (who I don’t believe have been introduced) depart the stage and leave Mitski by herself, this time with an electric guitar instead of the bass, to play the last four songs solo. And they just so happen to be probably my four favourite songs in her catalogue. ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’ is all thrashes of distorted guitar and ‘Class of 2013’ is gentler, but both songs hit hard with their lyrics that perfectly convey the horrific transition from the care-free and kept days of youth to the adult responsibilities of a life dominated by an office job and monthly rent. That latter song, the encore, finds Mitski addressing her mother in song, asking whether she can stay at her house for a while. She holds her guitar up to her head and yells at the strings making them vibrate and quiver as if in trepidation, before she calms and reflects: “Mom, am I still young? Can I dream for a few months more?” It all seems oh so incredibly cathartic.