Taping recap: Mitski

Mitski has undoubtedly carved out her own unique space in modern music – appropriately enough for an artist equally comfortable opening for either the Pixies or Lorde. The Japanese-born/NYC-based singer, songwriter and university-trained composer has her own distinct point of view and a singular performance style that owes as much to theater and dance as rock and pop. With a generous setlist covering her entire career, Mitski and her four-piece band gave us a stand-out show, made all the more special by her announcement on her Twitter feed earlier today that this would be her final tour.

The band took the stage behind a table desk and chair, followed by Mitski herself, holding a mic and standing still at stage right. As she sang “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart,” she did a slow walk from the side of the stage to her desk, taking a seat as the song ended. She sat stock still as the synth pulse of “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” kicked off, going into full-on choreography as the song progressed. She went back to the desk for the atmospheric “Old Friend,” climbing atop at the song’s climax. The band cranked up the volume for “Francis Forever” and “Dan the Dancer,” which contrasted nicely with her stoic performance style – at least until the leg kicks began on “Dan.” A plethora of sampled claps heralded the arrival of “Washing Machine Heart,” which garnered immediate cheers and encouraged Mitski to leave the desk. She returned to the prop for the throbbing “I Will,” ending the song standing atop it.

The music became noisier and more insistent for “I Don’t Smoke,” which Mitski performed with her arms as much as her voice. The more straightforward “First Love/Last Spring” earned a more energetic performance from the auteur, as if she was fueled by nervous energy. The dramatic “Geyser” followed, with the table desk taking on a role closer to dance partner than prop. Leaving the table on its end, she stalked the stage for the vibrant, aggressive “Townie,” before straddling the chair like a Bob Fosse character for the danceably poppy “Nobody.” She re-embraced the table for the tightly powerful “Liquid Smooth,” before taking to a microphone stand for the clamorous “A Pearl.” The languid, spacey “Thursday Girl” found her back on the table, as did the heartworn “Lonesome Love.”

After a quick sip of water, she sat on her knees on the table as guitarist Patrick Hyland strummed the chords to “Your Best American Girl,” which moved from meditative pop song to loud rock thumper, complete with whipped hair. The more melancholic “I Bet On Losing Dogs” followed, which also used the soft/loud dynamic to great advantage, as Mitski took over the desk once again. She then turned the desk over and stood behind it for the angry, strident “Drunk Walk Home,” brandishing her mic stand like a soldier practicing with a rifle and crawling on the floor in defiance. She ended the main set with the heartbroken pop anthem “Happy,” after which she left the stage.

It was only to retrieve her guitar, however, as her musicians continued to play. “My band, everyone,” Mitski remarked as they quit the stage, leaving her alone for the stark “A Burning Hill.” She then left the stage herself, leaving her adoring fans to cheer wildly. She returned, of course, as did keyboardist Kyuhyun Marie Kim, launching quietly, almost resignedly into the lovely “Two Slow Dancers.” She then thanked both the audience for supporting her in doing her “favorite thing in the world,” before praising the ACL crew as “the kindest, most accommodating, least pretentious people” with whom she’d ever done a TV gig. Then it was time for the big, show-closing anthem: “Carry Me Out,” a clear crowd favorite and the perfect way to end such a special show. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs as part of our upcoming Season 45 this fall on your local PBS station.