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Mitski rocks out
Mitski is an emotive rock star. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Lehrman / The New York Times)

A cathartic Concert: Mitski at Casa del Popolo

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On Tuesday night, Mitski turned Casa del Popolo into a de facto confessional. Touring for her 2014 release, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Mitski Miyawaki’s Montréal show followed a handful of North American tour dates, which were directly preceded by performances in the U.K., and even at the Iceland Airwaves festival. A shivering pack of concert-goers, noses pink from the cold, gathered near the stage in anticipation of the headlining singer-songwriter herself, as well as openers PWR BTTM and Palehound.

Duo PWR BTTM brought a vibrant and glitter-heavy punk affair on stage. Their set was punctuated by quips about Windows ’98 being “the least queer operating system” and anecdotes about crossing the border, their easy banter transitioning playfully into similarly animated songs. Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce swapped places playing the guitar and drumming, voicing chant-encouraging choruses in a high-energy frenzy.

The Boston-based indie rock group Palehound followed. Although beginning with the caveat that her between-song repartee wouldn’t measure up to that of PWR BTTM, frontwoman Ellen Kempner remarked that the audience could probably “relate to being pretty bummed out a lot of the time”—after all, it was a Mitski show. She continued with a selection of songs that were poignant in their own right; Kempner herself swaying side-to-side through “Healthier Folk,” a wistful, alt rock lullaby. Her breathy, dreamlike vocals, combined with drumming from Jesse Weiss and bass from David Khoshtinat, to make for an intimate live experience.

After conquering a series of soundcheck difficulties, Mitski and her supporting band launched into the searing anthem “Townie” with earnest fervor. The swelling energy was only amplified by the work of Casey Weissbuch on drums and Callan Dwan on guitar. The camaraderie between the musicians was more than apparent with all members of both opening acts standing stageside, as enraptured as any other viewer that night.

Mitski’s lyrics are melancholy without being bleak; her voice sincere and raw. There’s nothing timid in lyrics like “I want a love that falls as fast / as a body from the balcony,” and that’s the point. On stage her songs are feats of strength, encompassing everything from the soothing rumination of “First Love/Late Spring” to the concentrated fury in “Drunk Walk Home.” This emotional intensity brought the room to a standstill, during which, she addressed all the “women, people of colour, and trans people” in the audience. The words “you’re not asking for too much” echoed in the otherwise hushed room. After a pause, some scattered, whispered thank-yous emerged from the reverent quiet.

Midway through her set, Weissbuch and Dwan bowed out, leaving Mitski alone to conclude what had already proved to be an intense and emotionally draining performance. The powerfully devastating final notes of “Last Words of a Shooting Star” rang out to a stunned-silent crowd–the words “I’ve always wanted to die clean and pretty/ but I’d be too busy on working days” seeming fragile and resilient all at once.

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