Probably the most critically lauded indie rock artist of 2016, Mitski’s recent album Puberty 2 was equal parts anthemic and personal, explaining why tonight’s show is sold out well in advance. Tonight’s support band Trust Fund is oversensitive indie at it’s best. Maybe that sounds like damning with faint praise but I’m exactly the right demographic, so I feel at home. The songwriting is also exceptional. Moving from quiet tender moments into bursts of excitable rhythms and close harmonies producing the effect of a sudden rush of feeling in all its messiness. Ellis Jones’ lyrics explore flawed relationships but show people finding solace in each other’s imperfections: “If we stop feeling weird/ in ten or twelve or fifteen years/ what would we even have to talk about?” He asks in ‘Football’ and the answer, of course, is football. Jones’ voice isn’t exactly conventional, sometimes sounding like a pained whine. But it helps to bring out the fragility in his music.
Mitski has spoken before about how her previous album Bury Me At Makeout Creek was written with the intention of it being easy to tour with its sparse instrumentation, often just her and a guitar. It was a move that paid off, so on Puberty 2 she made the most of the opportunity that album provided her to reverse the approach. Write the songs first, figure out how to tour them after. Tonight one of her solutions is simply not to play a lot of the new songs. In fact we’re four tracks in before anything from Puberty 2 gets an airing. Some of the albums best moments, including the single ‘Happy’ don’t make an appearance, probably because it wouldn’t quite have the same impact without its lead saxophone hook. Electronic drum sounds and a plethora of guitar pedals are instead used to add variety to a three-piece touring band. Some of the dials on the guitarist’s pedals must have been knocked out of place because the constant messing around with the pedals is distracting and sometimes just sounds downright bad. The shrill noise feels like something Mitski is having to battle against and she doesn’t always win. More often than not she overcomes the obstacles. On songs like ‘I Don’t Smoke’ her wavering vibrato cuts to the emotional quick.
A cover of the Calvin Harris song ‘How Deep is Your Love’ wins the prize for maybe the most unexpected cover of the year. But she successfully brings out the melancholic melody buried under all the over produced kick drums and big room house chords of the original, turning it into a still-bombastic sounding bit of indie rock. For the last two songs the band leaves and Mitski finishes the set, just her and a guitar, delivering delicate renditions of ‘A Burning Hill’ and ‘Last Words of a Shooting Star’ both of which are heart stopping in their gorgeousness. You get the sense she could easily have carried on touring as a solo act, the simple brilliance of her songs are more than capable of standing up on their own. “Let’s not do the whole encore thing” she pleads with the audience before playing her final song. But that doesn’t deter the audience from responding rapturously when she leaves the stage, and deservedly so.