Published Oct 23, 2018It was halfway through Mitski Miyawaki's sold out Toronto show that it happened — during "Townie," the rousing second track from her 2014 breakthrough Bury Me at Makeout Creek, the singer finally let her guard down for a second and began pogoing onstage.
Flanked by a quartet of musicians — she only brought out her own guitar for the main set's final solo acoustic number, "A Burning Hill" — and three video screens, Miyawaki was a master of control and composure for most of the night. Her refusal to deviate from her (seemingly) pre-designed movements had baked a tension into her performance that was palpable in the rapturous audience. This sudden breaking of the fourth wall had an immediate effect, cutting that tension with a knife, allowing the crowd to let go of their own inhibitions in the process.
The poise with which Miyawaki approaches her performances — slow, deliberate movements and gestures executed without acknowledgement of the audience — are a continuation of the formal stateliness she embraced on new album, Be the Cowboy. Even as the guitars, drums and keyboards threatened to overwhelm her voice, she remained a force of calm in the eye of the musical storm. It seemed designed to deliberately turn the show into something of a pressure cooker, but, as she admitted in a rare onstage quip, it also masks her uneasy relationship with stage banter.
That need to control proceedings is a double-edged sword though, as tension can turn to strain. Miyawaki's songs are deceptively short. She blitzed through two dozen of them in an hour and 15 minutes, leaving no room for her band to stretch out their performances. Yet, like every aspect of the show, the lack of breathing room felt like a choice, not a consequence, her pogoing perhaps meant to make up for it.
As her set wound down, she thanked the audience for allowing her to do what she loves, delivering the keyboard-driven "Two Slow Dancers" and "Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart," these relative deep cuts met with the similar reverence as "hits" like "Your Best American Girl" and "Nobody." "I don't know you, but I love you" she stated early in the night and by evening's end, it was clear that the feeling was absolutely mutual.