Review: Mitski @ Shrine Expo Hall (Los Angeles, CA)

Mitski (Mie, Japan) and Julia Jacklin (Blue Mountains, Australia)
March 29th, 2024
Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles, CA

Mitski’s performances never fail to amaze me. I’ve seen her in almost every environment
imaginable – from festivals to small acoustic performances, and she still leaves me in awe.
Though some of her songs are over a decade old now, her revamp of old tunes pack a punch on
her navigation through love and her career as a songwriter. I am truly grateful to have been
blessed enough to see this change and be able to witness growth in her art.

Mitski has a way of somehow choosing the perfect opener, a hint at the type of show
she’s about to put on. This show was no different. Julia Jacklin’s short-but-sweet performance
was both alluring and captivating. Her opening song was like a play with the bustling of voices
still trying to find their seats, the faint sound of the creaking door in the background, and
Jacklin as the chorus. The song “Too In Love to Die” immediately drew me in – something a bit
rare for an opener – like a siren calling sailors to the sea. The sheer power of her raw vocals
almost drowned out every other sound coming from that huge theater. Her intense yet soft
ballads of desperation and aching love were a perfect appetizer for the beautiful production of
Mitski’s world.

Before I talk about Mitski’s art on stage, I have to talk about her choice of set design and
theater. The first couple of shows of hers I saw were a couple of years back, and the
auditoriums played almost no role in her production. However, as she seems to become more
comfortable on stage, you can see her play with her environment more. Her choice of theater was
perfect for her vibe – it was dim, gothic, and intimate – just as her songs and her presence on
stage. As well, she often used light as a personal figure in her music or as a means of
setting each song unique to the last.

Her setlist seemed to be perfection – every song and its place in the performance was almost
like a story, telling of desperation and hungry love to hesitant forgiveness and letting go. Like
watching a play, we were reminded that what we were witnessing was more than just music; its
meaning transcended her notes. Even just the placement of the band surrounding her placed her
at the center, almost as if she was trapped – forced to play out this production for us. Her opening
song, “Everyone,” immediately emphasizes this theme of a loss of desire for creation and the
inescapability of the music industry. Similarly, her performance of “Working for the Knife”
reminded me of a ballerina box, with her dancing slowly in a circle, the cyclic and exhausted
energy of her performance paralleling the soul-crushing nature of the music industry forcing her
to churn out music at a consistent level. At the moment when she sings the line of her “facing the
truth,” she instinctively turns away from the audience, communicating an idea that she’s still
trying to fight this revelation and exposing her emotional attachment to performance and a
hypocritical unwillingness to let it go.

Throughout her performance, a few songs were altered in beat, seeming to have a more
country tone and an upbeat percussion. However, this does not dilute the anguish of the lyrics
and the pure sadness in its meaning. Honestly, the juxtaposition between the beat and her lyrics
seemed to enhance it. It felt as though she was almost embarrassed at the words – like she knows
she can’t get what she wants, so she’s trying to ask for more in a “nonchalant” manner. This idea
carries through in “I Don’t Smoke” and “Pink in the Night,” which both have themes of hopeless
love and holding onto a relationship where the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

It was her performance of “The Frost” that first introduced light as a secondary figure in
her stage presence. She begins by strumming the light as you would a guitar and later she will
feel its entrapment as the light beams mimic a prison or she will dance with it as if it were her
partner. In each situation where light is a definitive factor in the layout of the song, she uses it
uniquely to complement the song’s meaning. For “The Frost,” the strumming of the light
represents her clinging onto a relationship that is no longer present and silently reflecting on its
meaning and importance in her life. The song describes a world in which a frost has taken over,
leaving her alone in her attic (symbolic for the enclosure of her mind). She sings about losing her
best friend and having no one to tell about her feelings of isolation. The light plays the role of
this silent figure whom she’s singing to, a ballad only she can hear.

Similarly, the strobe lights play an intimate role in her performance of “Star” and
“Heaven” where the beams literally become her dancing partner. The song “Star” itself is about
clinging onto a love lost that once shone like a burning star. By her dancing cyclically with the
light, it’s shown that her search and reminisce of this love is defeated, as in the end it’s just her
and her alone. I also found it beautiful that during this song she ended by basking in each beam
of light on the stage, saying that she is ultimately thankful for experiencing the love she sings
about. Both songs end with an almost total dimming of the stage lights, leaving Mitski alone
within a bubble of her spotlight, proving once again that the only love that sticks is performance
and self-enclosurement.

Finally, the last notable usage of light in Mitski’s art was during her song “Happy,” which
is about love as a replacement for happiness. She sings about how light she felt when
“happiness” was at her house and then the overwhelming loneliness and realization in its
absence. The lights during this song were all over the place, bringing a dizzying feel to the stage.
To me, it looked as though they were dancing – reflective of the feeling she describes at the
beginning of the song – although just as in the lyrics this is only an illusion.

Though this may have been my fourth time seeing her, Mitski’s presence on stage is
ever-growing and will continue to leave me in awe every time I see her. The way she moves on
stage and carries herself separates her from simply being a musician. She’s a performer and an
artist, and I am so happy to have been able to see her gain popularity and all the love she deserves.

To check out Mitski’s latest album THE LAND IS INHOSPITABLE AND SO ARE ARE WE, please click here

For future Mitski tour dates, please click here

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