By Amy Hanna
I don’t go to a lot of punk shows. The rough-and-tumble atmosphere triggers my anxiety, as does too much contact, but the worst part—by far the worst— is the disrespect that comes from being a brown girl in a crowd full of anything but. As I’ve grown up I’ve done away with the romance of feeling the electricity shocks of guitars swelling around me, gritting my teeth at the feedback, experiencing a performance that’s minimalist and imperfect but in in no way less skilled or practiced.
That is, until I discovered Mitski.
Mitski Miyawaki is a NYC-based DIY punk rocker with enough voltage in her voice to power Actual Buildings, Probably, yet can also deliver performances with a tenderness that can dredge up memories you didn’t even know you had. When I found out she would be returning to The Pinhook in Durham, NC, a venue notorious for its LGBTQ+ inclusion and clear message of crowd safety, I knew I had to bring myself to go. A punk show’s a punk show, but I had the feeling a Mitski show would be different. I wasn’t wrong.
The night began with Jay Som, the musical project of San Francisco-based Melina Duterte. With just a vintage guitar in hand, Jay Som weaved through sweet, honest melodies that managed to stay balanced on the indie-simplicity spectrum, never too contrived or too sleepy. In certain moments, Jay Som fashioned some quiet bedroom serenade-level gentleness, especially by the end of her set with her final song, “I Think You’re Alright”. Jay Som was summertime peach sweetness, guileless and genuine.
Japanese Breakfast, newest solo project from Little Big League’s Michelle Zauner, stepped up next, projecting a glorious wall of sound undercutting Zauner’s hazy yet piercing vocals. Japanese Breakfast is a balancing act, tossing opposites back and forth: rich harmonies and cacophonous yells, simplicity and layers, light and dark. This made for an incredibly dynamic set, one full of twists and turns. The most notable of these was their last song, “Machinist”. This track does not come from Japanese Breakfast’s newest work, Psychopomp, but will probably show up on Japanese Breakfast’s next full-length. The performance saw Zauner at her most confident, moving like a bullet on stage and through the crowd. This song in particular among the rest, a confused, electronic shot of energy, made me most excited to see everything else Japanese Breakfast has in store.
Mitski and her band took to the stage to check levels, bantering, laughing, walking offstage because “it’s not our set time yet!”, and it all felt so easy. Even when the familiar ripping chords to “Townie”, a standout track from Mitski’s third album Bury Me at Makeout Creek, began, the audience moved and swayed but did not remove their collective gaze from the artist on stage, regaling of a love “that falls as fast as a body from the balcony”. No one pushed or shoved or wailed or even touched, and maybe that’s protocol at these shows nowadays but I breathed easy for a change, able to murmur along to “Thursday Girl”, a twinkly, honest plea that happens to be one of my very favorites from Mitski’s brand new album, Puberty 2.
Mitski’s newest works slotted in beautifully amongst her regular repertoire, but were definitely the more confident songs within the set. Indeed, Puberty 2 is not a complete departure from where Mitski left off with Bury Me at Makeout Creek, but it is clear that the messages and sonics are that much more pure and intentional on Puberty 2 than ever before. The crowd ate up songs like “Once More to See You”, and the rage-charged espresso shot “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”. Personal set highlights were “Your Best American Girl”, the lead single off Puberty 2, which was performed with heartbreaking honesty that brought me back to the very first pale-white, freckle-faced boy I ever had the misfortune of having a crush on, and a sultry, bass thrumming cover of Calvin Harris’ “How Deep is Your Love”.
“Let’s do away with formalities,” Mitski shot the crowd a small, wry smile as she remained on stage for her encore. Her drummer and guitarist left the stage, leaving only Mitski, her guitar, and all of us. Mitski ended the night with simplicity, playing through “A Burning Hill” and “Last Words of a Shooting Star”, the chilling outros of her two most recent albums. There was something beautiful about her deadpan delivery, power in the quiet. And then she was gone, with a wave goodbye and a “thank you”, and I heard my own sigh of complete, happy contentment echoed throughout the room.
Mitski is refreshing in every conceivable way—from her reckless, near-perfect vocal delivery, to her honest banter, and finally to way her audience tends to reflect her own care and respect. Mitski, along with her openers, served as the lilting soundtrack to one of the most relaxed, comfortable gigs I’ve ever been to. And for me, that’s the highest praise I could ever give to any show.
Be sure to check out Mitski on tour across the US this summer! Click here for dates.