Mitski delivers raw San Francisco concert debut

Mitski
Sofia Raimondi/Staff

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When you think of punk, you may not imagine a rocker politely turning down requests for an encore. That’s one way Mitski defied the expectations of how the up-and-coming face of punk/folk rock is supposed to perform. Attending a Mitski concert is to experience the birth of a new genre of performer: thoughtful, introverted and with a tight grip on her rage. Unique to the messy, relentless nature of stereotypical rock-punk performances, Mitski gave a poignant and undervalued performance at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill on June 30.

The show sold out with tickets priced just below $15, which is surprising for an artist who does not even have her own Wikipedia page. The venue was uncommonly intimate, with only a small set of steps — which were constantly crowded by people trying to get closer to the music — leading to the stage separating the artist from the audience.

Mitski, in an email to The Daily Californian, expressed her surprise at the thick crowd and said, “(Having) a sold out headlining show and then a line around the block for the SF show was like, ‘how do you know me? where did you come from?’ ”

Mitski opened with the most popular track off her album Bury Me at Makeout Creek, “Townie,” the anthem of every careless, angry teenager who feels affirmed when screaming along with the lyrics: “I am not going to be what my daddy wants me to be.” She performed the song with little of the ferocity and dirty feedback that made it the highlight of the album, sending out a false alarm that the rest of her performance would be more tame than everyone hoped it would be.

On the contrary, Mitski would later deliver the rage that the crowd had come in expecting — but with patience and the right timing. This calculated performance may be chalked up either to her classical training in college or to her impeccable intuition of how to properly express anguish. When Mitski roared, it was with artistry, precision and strategy.

“I Don’t Smoke” proved the mastery she has over her vocal range. She would alternate between fluttering, airy notes when singing out, “I don’t smoke / Except for when I’m missing you,” and vocal-cord-ripping force, snarling the lyrics, “I am stronger than you give me credit for.” This juxtaposition continued throughout her entire set. One moment, her face would coil up in effort as she roared about the reality of heartbreak and feeling worthless, and then she’d almost immediately fall back into a quiet, self-deprecating lilt — making her anger that much more intense and her quiet crooning that much more heartbreaking.

The atmosphere was intense. Her lyrics are raw, and they pierced through the core of  every tattooed, septum-pierced, cigarette-smoking audience member, on occasion leaving them shocked and standing silently between songs. But Mitski does not and cannot allow crowd energy to affect her performance.

“I used to try to feed off of whatever energy the audience was giving me, and that can be dangerous because people are unreliable,” Mitski explained in an email to the Daily Cal. “(It) often has nothing to do with (the performer).

With the deeply personal and despairing nature of her music, Mitski has found a way to perform passionately but sustainably.

“I’ve instead learned … to see where I’m at that day, what I need to express that day, regardless of what the audience is giving me, and remember to play the music for myself,” she said.

After her last song, “Last Words of a Shooting Star,” the audience shouted out tentative requests for an encore. She heard the calls but shook her head with an embarrassed smile, respectfully saying no.

There was a wide array of emotions on the faces of people leaving the show — some with smug, self-congratulatory looks, knowing they had witnessed a show so undervalued at just $15, and some wide eyed and emotional because of the intimacy of the performance. There was, however, a sense of budding nostalgia for that small show in a secluded corner of the city, as everyone knew in their hearts that the next time Mitski returns to San Francisco, it won’t be a secret.

Contact Sofia Raimondi at [email protected].