Gig review: Mitski at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Mitski. Picture: Bao NgoMitski. Picture: Bao Ngo
Mitski. Picture: Bao Ngo
'I'm here to see St Vincent's competition,' winks the man in the audience. It's not entirely clear what he means until the second song, when Mitski Miyawaki starts to make minimal pendulum arm movements to the grungy pop of '˜I Don't Smoke'.

The choreography, perfectly tailored to the tempo and emotion of the song, gets more expansive as the set progresses. By the time the Japanese-American musician performs the punky ‘Drunk Walk Home’ she’s virtually flinging herself on the floor as she spits out ‘f*** you and your money!’

She may have the same art school aesthetic as the Masseduction singer but the results are markedly different. St Vincent has the big budget wow factor but her recent tour had a sense of disconnect. Mitski works on a much smaller scale but with more success; the physical movements often adding emotional depth to 90s influenced indie-pop.

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It’s a sense of physical control that contrasts with both her anonymous four piece band, who aren’t in on the act, and with her lyrical over sharing. When she sings ‘One word from you and I would/Jump off of this ledge’ on the Weezer-ish ‘First Love/Late Spring’ her words of devastation are negated by her blank face and stylised movements.

The lyrics are nonetheless part of the wider control, in which she plays with female personas. In the jaunty show tune ‘Me And My Husband’, on which she pulls cod-seductive Marilyn Monroe poses, she’s ‘the idiot with the painted face.’ On ‘Nobody’, one of the few songs to reflect her more electro-pop experimentation, she’s the coward who ‘just want[s] to feel all right.’

There’s a sense that the characters and choreography help a self-confessedly private person deal with public adulation. Her limited banter feels rehearsed and it’s not until the close that a glimpse of the person behind the mask is revealed, when she notes that music “is what I’m alive for and what I stay alive for.” Judging by the audience reaction, it’s helped other people stay alive too.