Supported by Moaning Lisa, this performance was captivating to say the least.
Artists rarely plan for adoration. Personal songwriting often inspires adoration, but if that were a guaranteed path to devotion, folkstars would still exist. Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki, known mononymously as Mitski, has cultivated a devout following with an ever-changing frame of vulnerability and zany garage rock. People adore Mitski – before doors opened, a line longer than any seen at The Corner Hotel in recent years snaked down the side alley. Charlie Versegi, bass-vocalist of Moaning Lisa, articulated the fandom best when she regarded it as an attitude.
“She taught me you could be emotional, hysterical and female and still be successful in the music business,” she said in dedication, before the band played ‘Carrie (I Want a Girl)’.
The crowd was more giddy than rowdy, with plenty of gushing over Mitski’s 2018 opus Be the Cowboy. The record launched her into the critical stratosphere and is her greatest pivot to the left yet, experimenting with narrative and a variety of musical guises such as disco, country, funk and R&B. Canberra’s Moaning Lisa were well placed in the support slot, playing to a near full room. Their neo-riot grrrl pop is a rising star in the Australian scene, and they shared more than a passing influence with Mitski’s garage-rock beginnings.
A Charles Mingus tune and Euro-pop brought Mitski onstage, perhaps a deliberate reminder of the musical pedigree that brought her before us. A degree in studio composition gave her classical training but it also imbued her music with diverse stylistic control (briefly she was the vocalist for a progressive metal band). Her current band arrangement is a guitarist with a four-foot wide pedal board, drummer, bassist/synth pad operator and keyboardist. They played with the adroit detachment of session musicians. The static spotlight ensured Mitski as vocalist, now unencumbered with a guitar, as the sole focus from the outset.
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Mitski began with ‘Remember My Name’, though her vocals didn’t quite arrive with her. It wasn’t until the shrill fuzz of ‘I Don’t Smoke’ that her dynamic voice burst through the mix. Beginning almost motionless, Mitski tightly choreographed actions to every song, bursting with energy both delicate and fretful. The emotional frustration of ‘Francis Forever’ built up to an uncontainable level, as she paced back and forth across the front of the stage for two and a half minutes straight. Mitski curled the 8-bit crunch of ‘Washing Machine Heart’ gracefully into what resembled emotional Tai Chi. It channelled Father John Misty’s Jim Morrison-esque parody, with greater intent. Every song felt like a scene in a piece of micro-theatre, both transfixing the audience and guarding her identity. That is, of course, until she hilariously broke the fourth wall by sharing a conundrum she and the band had discussed backstage: ‘‘What’s worse, vomit or diarrhoea?’’ Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only interruption; a bunch of overactive flash-cameras forced Mitski to ask people to stop.
Mitski’s last four records fitted seamlessly into the set list, creating something of a narrative in her personal and musical development. ‘Happy’ was the Puberty 2 highlight of the night, the band’s arrangement tending to an almost carnival twee. Her two greatest works of pop craftsmanship to date were punched into the setlist three-quarters of the way through. ‘Townie’ had a more thrashy edge to its cry of defiance than the recorded version. The intensity of the singalong made an impression on Mitski, who let out a laugh before the hi-hat roll of ‘Nobody’ began. Live, the ode to loneliness gained a surreal power from an 800-strong crowd singing along in sheer joy.
The teen-movie shattering balladry of ‘Two Slow Dancers’ was the traditional start to the encore (hindered slightly in gravitas by a faulty sampler) though it was ‘Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart’ that formed the perfect oddball gift to an evidently devoted Melbourne audience – a bounding, misshapen guitar yodel from Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. Mitski is a true maverick; if anyone is worthy of devotion, it’s her.
Highlight: ‘Francis Forever’.
Lowlight: Dickheads with flash cameras. Why?
Crowd Favourite: ‘Townie’ and ‘Nobody’ double-header.