Originally published in The Declaration November 2016
The Southern Café and Music Hall was packed to the rafters this Thursday night for indie singer-songwriter Mitski, touring with her fourth studio album, “Puberty 2.” If you couldn’t get a ticket, or if (God forbid) you skipped the opening acts, here’s a taste of what you missed.
First on the lineup was Weaves, a Toronto-based noise-pop group with a classic blues-rock streak. Guitarist Morgan Waters, drummer Spencer Cole, and Bassist Zach Bines took the stage first to summon up a soundscape of screeching feedback, a launch pad for singer Jasmyn Burke, who emerged from backstage to begin the set with “Birds & Bees.” Waters plays unconventional, effects-warped riffs (sometimes with a glass slide), held up by a solid rhythm section.
Burke’s vocals are smooth and approachable, but they aren’t without their own quirks, as likely as the guitar to jump to unexpected places. She walked the stage nonchalantly, at times sitting back casually on a guitar amp.
With their unpredictable dynamics and noisy breakdowns, Weaves were a unique and enjoyable act with an infectious energy you couldn’t help but feel hyped about.
Fear of Men:
Brighton, England post-punks Fear of Men were next on the order, bringing a dense, atmospheric pop sound reminiscent of The Cure. The core group is comprised of singer/guitarist Jess Weiss, guitarist Daniel Falvey, and drummer Michael Miles, and they were joined on stage by a bassist, switching between Korg synth and more traditional bass guitar.
Falvey fed his guitar through a multi-effects processor for an ethereal sound. Coupled with synth bass, Miles’ relentless snare rolls, and close harmony on Weiss’ vocals, this gave the group’s sound a droning, subliminal quality, sometimes surging through the room like an indistinct rumble, as though the music were happening elsewhere.
Fear of Men closed the set with “Inside,” a pleasantly dreamy track from their debut album “Looms.”
It took me a lot of listening to feel like I fully “got” Mitski’s latest album, but her live show was instantly arresting. Most of “Puberty 2” was on the setlist, along with a few takes from her previous work.
She played grungy bass lines for most of the show, accompanied by a guitarist and drummer, resulting in a more urgent feel than her recordings. Thrumming bass was the new backbone of the sound, with the occasional cymbal crash or guitar lick to round it out.
With the slick production finishes of her studio work stripped back, the punk bones of the songs show through. It’s to Mitski’s credit as a songwriter that these compositions remain solid when you break down the arrangements.
“Your Best American Girl,” a favorite of fans and critics, was one cut that stood out in particular. Already a compelling story of racial and romantic tension, the Pixies-style loud/quiet dynamics were enhanced by the live arrangement, imbuing it with tremendous power.
“Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / but I do, I finally do,” she sang with a smile. “I didn’t wear makeup today because I wanted you to see my face when I sang it,” she said afterwards.
For the last few songs of the evening, the backing band left the stage and Mitski switched to acoustic guitar (often with a healthy dose of distortion, as on the brilliant “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”).
For the finale, she played “Class of 2013,” from her second album, “Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.”
“Mom, would you wash my back / This once, and then we can forget / And I’ll leave what I’m chasing / for the other girls to pursue,” she screamed into the sound-hole of her instrument.
Her often-understated stage presence belies the inspiring no-holds-barred passion in Mitski’s performance, and it’s clear that she finds joy in the act, despite the sadness and frustration that informs her writing.
“Thank you all very much for coming,” she said. “This is my favorite thing to do and you’re letting me do it.”