Mitski at Massey Hall

By: Siya Vallabh

Overall Rating: 9/10

It’s well past sunset on a cold February evening but the city is still buzzing. It’s twenty minutes to seven and I’m in a line around the block waiting to be let into Massey Hall. The crowd sticks out, a sea of Doc Martens, white button-down shirts, and everyone’s 5 foot 2. It’s night one of Mitski’s sold-out three-night run of shows, part of her tour for her seventh studio album The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We. The teens in front of me are young enough to need their mom to accompany them. The two men behind me are cracking jokes about how Mitski might arrive (these include but are not limited to her flying in on a helicopter, her floating down with an umbrella Mary Poppins style, and her possibly crashing a car into the venue). 

When we do get into Massey Hall, the entire venue is seated. There’s a strange familiarity in the air, I’ve never been here but it feels like I have. The woman sitting behind me has the same thought, she’s convinced her daughter played here while she was in the middle school band, and her daughter assures her she didn’t. A staff member in a blue suit named Dominic gives me a green wristband because I’m in the front row. He tells me that Mitski has specifically requested that nobody approach the stage (standing is perfectly fine, Dominic assures me). 

But when the opener Tamino takes the stage, the entire crowd is silent and seated. They clap and cheer after each song, but Massey feels too intimate to scream or shout. Tamino’s performance is intimate too, he’s alone on the stage with only a single spotlight shining down on him. He doesn’t speak for the first half of his set, other than to joke that he “almost died” after tripping on a wire, just silently tuning his guitar strings between tracks. As he warms up to the crowd, the crowd warms up to him. By the time his set is over, the crowd is humming with anticipation for Mitski.

When Mitski arrives it isn’t by helicopter or umbrella, but with a regular old walk onto the stage. Still, she’s a magnetic presence. She has a full band behind her, and yet Mitski feels larger than all of them combined. For the first song, she disappears behind a curtain, lit from behind so only her shadow is visible to the crowd, at the end stepping back towards the light to fill the entire curtain with her massive shadow. Before the next song, the curtain drops to reveal Mitski, just as small and human as the rest of us.

Mitski sparsely interacts with the audience, at some shows she doesn’t speak or address the audience at all, but Mitski breaks out of her stage persona early on in her set to talk about her love of the city. She jokes that when Americans dream about moving to Canada, we should just let them have the fantasy. She gets riled up at the thought of medical bills ruining lives and it’s the only time in the entire show where her emotion doesn’t seem meticulously crafted and deliberate. After cheers and laughs from the audience die down, she warns us that she will not banter again for a while. 

A surprise standout of the performance is the incredible lighting design and choreography. At one point, Mitski uses the spotlight as a dance partner and at another, it strobes onto her as she spasms from a chair. Everything is very well planned and intentional during the show, which at some points feels downright theatrical. She remains a captivating performer for the entire duration of the show, and her vocals and band do not falter for the hour and a half (to the dot, she was incredibly punctual) that she performs.

At some points, the sold-out 2500-something crowd is completely silent, quiet enough that I can hear her guitarist and longtime producer Patrick Hyland tuning his guitar. Other times, my ears are ringing and my head is rumbling from the noise. There are audible gasps from the people around me when they realize what songs she is playing. The arrangement of her newest songs are similar to the studio version, but her older songs are completely transformed into more upbeat, folk country tunes. Still, behind fast and upbeat tempos remains her incredible poetic lyricism, which was an absolute joy to hear live. 

The setlist was pretty good, although I have to take points off for “Once More To See You”, “Your Best American Girl” and “Francis Forever” being removed from this tour, it was nice to finally hear “Pink in the Night” live after years of her not playing it. When she leaves the stage for a brief intermission before the encore, she receives a standing ovation and then receives it once again after the encore, which is comprised of her two hits, “Nobody” and “Washing Machine Heart”. When the lights come back up and it is time to leave, I am left impressed by the atmosphere she was able to foster and ready to recommend her to everyone I know. 

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