The mighty Mitski live at Belfast’s Empire Music Hall and Dublin’s Whelan’s. Words by Aoife O’Donoghue, photos by Sara Marsden and Pedro Giaquinto.
Empire Music Hall, Belfast
Photos by Sara Marsden
Photos by Pedro Giaquinto
Fresh from her show in the Workman’s club last September, Mitski made a welcome return to Ireland this week, playing not one, but three locations; Cyprus Avenue in Cork, The Empire in Belfast, and finishing up in Whelans in Dublin. The New York-based artist has quickly grown to prominence and praise after four albums, her latest being Puberty 2, released last June, and is the midst of a whirlwind of global shows, including Barcelona’s Primavera and the Pitchfork festival in Chicago.
The intimacy of these Irish shows, however, is where her quietly commanding energy shines on stage. Mitski, soft spoken but passion – draws all attention in the venue. This is as stripped down as they get, there is no dramatics to the performance but only a clear focus on playing these songs, and playing them well. As Mitski admits during the show, she’s not much of a talker, but she appreciates our presence nonetheless, and of course this (and every song) is met with thunderous applause. The benefit of small venues like Whelans is the expected passion from the crowd, and this sold-out show is full of adoring fans who give every bit of their energy, and attention to the stage.
Support comes from Swedish singer-songwriter Cajsa Siik, who succeeds at relaxing the crowd with her gentle and quiet setlist, and in contrast to Mitski, her chatting to the crowd between songs, asking if anyone had ever been to Sweden, and then having an almost full-blown conversation with an audience member about his visit to her hometown of Umeå. She’s a welcome introduction, as someone comfortable with her craft and able to draw up the energy needed for the main act.
Mitski has always borders the line between minimalism and punk with her tracks, and because of this, it’s kind of hard to know what energy to expect from the crowd at a show like this. However, it’s almost an effortless blend; with rapid energy songs like the ever popular ‘Your Best American Girl’, ‘Happy’ or ‘Francis Forever’ drawing rapturous cheers from the first notes – and a glint of surprise from Mitski, as she steps back from the mic to look out at the crowd confidently singing the lyrics back to her. During quieter tracks like ‘Once More To See You’, or a ‘Burning Hill’, others, the only sound in the venue is someone at the bar dropping a glass. Highlights then, are songs like ‘Drunk Walk Home’ from the 2014 album ‘Bury Me At Makeout Creek’, where Mitski reminds that she is not the quiet, unassuming artist one might assume from her more recent subdued tracks, as she angrily screams, “fuck you, and your money” to a delighted crowd. While the setlist is made up of plenty of 2016’s Puberty 2, it’s nice that the entire focus of the show isn’t on a sole album.
Half way through the show, Mitski is on stage alone, no accompanying bassist or drummer anymore. This is the moment where the intimate becomes even more personal – just an eager audience, and a guitar. With no flourish, Mitski, standing alone in front of 400, exudes fervour, and energy, through frenzied songs like ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’, or the more harrowing tracks as ‘Last Words of A Shooting Star’, and never loses the attention or focus of the crowd. Mitski never loses her steady gaze throughout the show, almost lost in her own music. This is witnessing a professional who treats like performing like a job, or a task, and does it almost masterfully. The only downside here, really is the length of the set – just slightly over an hour and finished before half ten – leaving you wanting more. Aoife O’Donoghue