Live Review: Mitski – Manchester Academy

Photo Credit: Iain Fox

Wow! I don’t think Thank Folk for That have attended a concert with this many screaming girls before. Her previous visits to the city included shows at revered underground haunts such as the sorely missed Ruby Lounge and Gorilla. This, it appears, is the journey that Mitski has traversed, so what has happened in the intervening years to prompt this stratospheric rise?

Perhaps the suggestion that she was quitting music back in 2019 stoked the passion of her fans. There’s also the enigma that surrounds her as she eschews social media and interviews if she can help it. There’s also the small fact that she released her most satisfying album which fervently marched towards more mainstream appeal just a few months ago. Perhaps this was just as much a surprise to her as it was to her fans considering her feelings for the industry and her place within it. Welcome to the Laurel Hell tour!

This colour-coded evening opens with the sparkling ‘Love Me More’ but the aesthetic is icy and her pleas alarming. Despite this, the joyous warmth her fans exude replaces the chill. The jaunty ‘Should’ve Been Me’ follows, maintaining the angst as she raps on the large white door at the rear of the stage. Mitski demonstrates a floaty presence as she glides in a flowing white dress, evoking images of a young Kate Bush during these early moments. It’s unsurprising perhaps to discover that Mitski worked with esteemed choreographer Monica Mirabile prior to the tour. ‘Francis Forever’ is a return to an earlier incarnation however, providing a gritty, tempestuous reminder of how she emerged into our consciousness, delivering raw, unadulterated angst amidst contemporaries like Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten. The pop-tinged ‘Me and My Husband’ that follows is a timely reminder then of the evolution of this fascinating artist.

The first half of this evening’s performance is utterly engaging but Mitski doesn’t actually acknowledge the audience verbally until much later, with a perfunctory ‘hello there’, but who cares. She briefly says later that she doesn’t do banter, which is fine; the music and her dramatic performance is clearly doing the talking. There’s a continental sophistication to ‘Stay Soft’ that epitomises the musical confidence that courses through Laurel Hell but it is ‘Nobody’ that reminds us that it actually has always been there and the anthem is sung back to Mitski by all and sundry. Actually, this is the case for pretty much every single song this evening!

There’s nothing epic or imposing about this performance though. Songs are incisive, appearing to function as band-aids, quickly removed to release the pain. The delicious combination of 80s disco with a teen movie soundtrack aesthetic on ‘The Only Heartbreaker’ disguises the tone, but there’s no hiding from it on ‘Working for the Knife’ which is crushing as she uses the microphone to slash at her body. This could have been overwhelming, but the evening concludes in a much more tender fashion with ‘Two Slow Dancers’ allowing an opportunity for contemplation and appreciation amidst the malaise which appears to be the primary draw for this young crowd.

Iain Fox