SummerStage in Central Park, New York, September 7 2019
In June, Mitski shocked fans when she announced she was preparing to stop playing live “indefinitely”. “It’s time to be human again,” she wrote on Twitter. “And have a place to live.” That surprise announcement felt like a bombshell, but the signs had been there. In a press release announcing her 2018 album ‘Be The Cowboy’, she talked of feeling isolated on the road, being completely spent, and having to “rally” herself to “get back to Mitski”.
Her decision blindsided her fans, though, likely because she is at the point in her career when you wouldn’t expect her to move out of the spotlight – ‘Be The Cowboy’ is her biggest album so far and its accompanying live show was acclaimed for its enthralling combination of interpretative dance and quiet theatrics. On the flipside, Mitski is now so established that she can afford to take a few years away without losing her loyal fanbase.
But before she gets back to the business of being human – Mitski Miyawaki rather than the mononymous guitar hero – she has two final shows to play at SummerStage in Central Park. The cordoned-off enclave in the sprawling green space feels like the perfect place to see the musician off. The man-made park is a gem in the New York’s landscape, an oasis amid gleaming skyscrapers and subterranean public transport. Mitski, similarly, is one of the toasts of the town – an artist who has grown from humble DIY beginnings to an always interesting, always engaging star without compromising her story or her vision. New York is where she came up, where she was made, and tonight (September 7), the first of the pair of farewells, is a full-circle moment.
When she arrives on stage, it’s in the black bike shorts, white t-shirt, and black knee-pads that have been the uniform of her live shows since ‘Be The Cowboy’’s release. She faces to her right as the trickling melody of 2013’s ‘Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart’ begins, only moving to lift the microphone in her right hand to her face, immediately transporting this part of the Upper East Side into her own world for the next 75 minutes.
By the end of the song, she’s gracefully, slowly stepped across the stage to a white table and chair that will form the centrepiece for the rest of her set. She sets down facing forward for ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me?’, her mic in a stand to free up her hands to make choreographed sweeps around her, acting out looking at herself in a mirror or crossing themselves around her neck and above her head.
It’s a shame the two screens to either side of the stage remain black all night because Mitski’s performance is full of intricacies that are easily missed when you’re craning to see over the people in front of you. At times, like during the serrated chug of ‘Dan The Dancer’, she utilises the table she once sat at as a platform, lying out and kicking her legs up and down before climbing onto her knees and stretching to the heavens. At others, she dips down in front of it or flips it on its side and uses it as a shelter as on the eerie epic ‘Geyser’, or for the piano-led ‘Liquid Smooth’, stands in front of its upended shape, spreads her arms across it and remains almost perfectly still, like an elegant jazz singer.
Most artists playing their final shows for the foreseeable would likely use some of their allotted performance time to make an emotional speech to their audience. Mitski keeps her words to a minimum, only pausing to tell the crowd she’s grateful for them and, later, to ask if she can play one more song. But she doesn’t need gushing monologues to bring SummerStage in Central Park to tears – she does just fine in that department with a closing pair of songs that see her break from her table-based routine. The stark ‘Two Slow Dancers’ and the appropriately titled ‘Carry Me Out’ hit even harder for their lack of choreography – after all the artfulness of her main set, they’re a reminder that this is a musician who doesn’t need bells and whistles to create something beautiful. Who knows when we’ll see Mitski again but, whatever she does next, it feels like a safe bet that her return will be just as stunning as her goodbye.
‘Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart’
‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me?’
‘Dan The Dancer’
‘Washing Machine Heart’
‘I Don’t Smoke’
‘First Love/Late Spring’
‘Your Best American Girl’
‘I Bet On Losing Dogs’
‘Drunk Walk Home’
‘A Burning Hill’
‘Two Slow Dancers’
‘Carry Me Out’