Live Report: Mitski - Roundhouse, London

Live Report: Mitski - Roundhouse, London

A performance of incisive emotion and balletic grace…

Mitski’s music touches areas of our lives that other songwriters can’t seem to reach. The curious, TikTok enabled spread of her 2018 album ‘Be The Cowboy’ – and the knock-on impact across her catalogue – took the artist out of the standard ‘indie’ sphere, and pushed ‘Laurel Hell’ to the upper echelons of the Billboard charts.

On reaching London’s Roundhouse venue, it’s this audience that comes most prominently to mind – the queue is simply staggering, stretching far down Camden as fans patiently wait to be let through security. Moving around the venue, it’s obvious that there is an intense sense of connection between those inside the building and the artist onstage; virtually everyone has Mitski merch, and the palpable tremble of anticipation speaks to a rare, rare bond.

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And then she comes onstage. And the lightning starts.

The sheer volume, the howling banshee-like wail of the crowd at the Roundhouse tonight is almost beyond belief. It feels more like a pop show than the serious, critically-minded, record shop inclined audience the ‘indie’ sphere is known for. Rushing through a breathless ‘Love Me More’ Mitski is utterly in her element, swooping towards the crowd before swirling around her band. ‘Should’ve Been Me’ is met with raptures, while ‘Me And My Husband’ and ‘Stay Soft’ carry an almost unbearable sense of tenderness.

It's a beautiful, beautiful show. Material from ‘Laurel Hell’ exhibits a freshness that utterly sparkles, while the inclusion of her broader catalogue emphasises the threads and stems that run through her work. Yet it’s more than just music; the way Mitski carries herself onstage, the balletic grace and superbly enabled choreography takes her music to a higher level. At times it’s like being absorbed in theatre, her movements carrying the crowd from grief to eroticism, from heart-stopping melody to aspects of laugh-out-loud silliness.

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And of course, it’s that bond that permeates almost every note. Standout moments like ‘Your Best American Girl’ threaten to tear the roof off this venerated venue, the scream of anticipation followed by the lighting up of phone after phone, desperate to record the moment. Indeed, while there will forever be speculation and debate over the merit – and manners – of recording a show on your phone, here it feels like nothing else than devotion, the desire to pin down this moment, and cherish it.

At times, it’s a staggering emotional experience. Mitski guides us through ‘Working For The Knife’ and ‘Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart’ as the crowd roll backwards and forwards in waves, their sights fixated on the stage. An expertly pieced together exposition – the evening both opens and closes early – the night closes with the soft, tender encore of ‘Two Slow Dancers’ before Mitski waves goodbye.

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Moving down the stairs of the Roundhouse, there’s much to chew over. The crowd skirts around us, and there’s a noticeable queer element – couples hold hands by the door, fans queue politely in the merch stall, the venue feeling every inch a safe space. The impact is profound, and lasting; it’s hard to place Mitski in any sort of lineage, as obvious comparisons – Kate Bush, for example, or Bjork’s theatrical elements – are European. It feels a little like Judy Garland within an indie universe, but the name that recurs most frequently during the show is Bowie – the complexity, the technical brilliance, and the dream-like, almost-alien nature of the whole experience. An artist to treasure, and to adore.

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Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

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