Be the Cowboy was my very first concert. And between the overwhelming red lights that covered the stage before the show started and the strong smell of marijuana coming from the guy behind me, I think it was a good first concert.
Mitski’s opener was Overcoats, a female duo with matching outfits and lots of mirrored dance moves. They started their set with harmonies in “Smaller Than My Mother” that sent vibrations straight through my body. October 19 was the first night they were performing with Mitski, and October 19 was my first night listening to their music. Their performance was a little bit repetitive, but still energetic, fun, and full of heart: the duo shared laughs and hugs on stage, and at the end of their second or third song, I watched them fist bump in the few still moments they had before starting to sing again. I’ve listened and jammed out to their debut album, YOUNG, in full since.
Mitski came on stage with plenty of smoke, yellow lights and blue static screens, and “Remember My Name” off of Be the Cowboy. I was introduced to her music two years ago with “Your Best American Girl” on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. I’m never one to remember lyrics, but I remembered when Mitski sang, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I finally do.” The further I dove into her music, the more entranced I became with this Asian–American girl who sang songs that I thought I had ghost written and that I could both cry and dance to.
The core of Mitski’s music is strong and unapologetic. It is expressed in a clear voice and an oftentimes chaotic background. “Remember My Name” was followed by “I Don’t Smoke,” complete with a backdrop of eyes and emotional hand movements from Mitski herself. I can still see her furrowed brow and wide–opened mouth belting “I Don’t Smoke” as though the one who broke her heart was in the audience. Her one outfit of the night was a white top and a long, black skirt, put together with a sleek bun. When she walked out, I thought she looked so refined; throughout her performance, I watched her sing through loneliness and heartache, coming undone only through the wisps of hair that escaped her bun. She looked just as put together at the end of the night as she did in the beginning. She played nine songs off of Be the Cowboy and almost double that off of her older track list, reinvigorating my old love for “I Will” and “Townie,” and yelling a special, live, “fuck you” to the audience during “Drunk Walk Home.”
In the short time Mitski performed on stage, she spoke for almost none of it. She did, however, say hi: her voice was mellow and slightly higher than I expected it to be, and somehow comforting. The few sentences she offered to her crowd after “Francis Forever” held no deeper meaning than her appreciation for Philadelphia and Overcoats, but felt real and personal in a way that no recording of her I’ve heard has ever captured.
Mitski will be back at Union Transfer November 18. Buy your tickets here.