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Live Review & Photo Gallery: Mitski at Auditorium Theatre • Chicago

| March 25, 2024


Auditorium Theatre,

Chicago, IL

Review of Friday, March 22, 2024, show by Jeff Elbel

Photos of Sunday, March 24, 2024, show by Curt Baran

On Friday, Mitski performed the second in a series of four sold-out concerts at Chicago’s storied Auditorium Theatre. The run of shows launched a new leg of touring in support of the celebrated songwriter’s seventh album, 2023’s The Land is Inhospitable and So are We. Only “When Memories Snow” was left unperformed from the 11-track album.

While earlier songs, including “Happy,” originally slanted toward darker electropop and synth-pop with an industrial edge, Mitski’s newer material emphasizes Gothic folk, with influences including country music and Ennio Morricone’s spacious spaghetti western soundtracks. Several earlier songs were retooled and reshaped to match.

The theatrical presentation was an integral component of the performance, drawing comparisons to other revered artists, including Kate Bush, Natasha Khan, a.k.a. Bat for Lashes, and Peter Gabriel. The concert began with shadow play as Mitski stood behind a billowing red curtain to perform “Everyone.” Eventually, the curtain dropped to reveal Mitski standing atop a central podium in stark white light.

With her seven-piece band arrayed around her in a semi-circle, Mitski sang “Buffalo Replaced” from the podium using slow and deliberate movements of interpretive dance. Next came “Working for the Knife,” the 2022 song that marked Mitski’s return following a lengthy absence. The singer had undertaken the self-imposed hiatus due to concerns that her art was being too commoditized and that her identity was being overtaken by fame.

The evening’s overall presentation was artful, deeply personal, and communicative, even without using many spoken words. “Welcome to my mind,” said Mitski during one brief pause. Props included a pair of black wooden chairs and creative use of light. The singer slow-danced with a shaft of light during “Heaven” and sat in a chair playing air guitar throughout country strummer “The Frost.” Lights ringing the pedestal became a cage during “I Don’t Like My Mind.” For “First Love/Late Spring,” Mitski teetered precariously atop a chair. “One word from you and I would jump off of this ledge I’m on, baby,” she sang in an intoxicating and lovesick croon.

Mitski paused to praise opening act Julia Jacklin and revealed a trick pulled on the Australian singer during the prior night’s show. Jacklin hadn’t included Mitski’s favorite song, “Too in Love to Die,” in her first set, and Mitski called her out on it during the headlining performance. On Friday, Jacklin acquiesced with a riveting acapella version of the song. Mitski concluded that there was a lesson to be learned. “Peer pressure is good and works,” she told the audience with a smile.

The audience erupted at the opening drumbeat for “I Bet on Losing Dogs.” Mid-song, Mitski crouched onto all fours with her tongue out in pantomime.

Billboard #26 torch song “My Love Mine All Mine” was performed as if sung to the moon, with sparkling fragments of reflective moonbeam dangling from wires surrounding Mitski, who twirled in circles among them.

The devoted “Pink in the Night” was rearranged from its meditative studio version into a lively samba. The band ultimately transitioned into a New Orleans-styled second-line rhythm. Mitski danced joyfully in a circle while singing about heartbreak and obsession.

“All right, let’s have some fun,” said Mitski before performing “I Don’t Smoke.” Originally released in an unsettling, heavy rock arrangement, the portrait of dangerous need and obsession was performed as a country romp. Lively fiddle and shimmering organ intertwined while Mitski performed a one-woman line dance.

“Bug Like an Angel” was a recriminatory lesson from Mitski to herself. “Did you go and make promises you can’t keep?” she sang. “Well, when you break them, they break you right back.”

Replete with weeping pedal steel, the careworn “Love Me More” was a song of unrequited need. “When today is finally done, there’s another day to come,” sang Mitski, repeating the line “then another day to come” to underscore the sense of hopeless longing.

By eschewing glitzy publicity and off-stage antics while guarding her private life, Mitski has slowly built an intensely steadfast following. The crowd that populated the Auditorium Theatre included many in goth regalia and elegant attire, treating the evening as a major celebratory event. Catcalls seldom rose from the crowd between songs, and the room often fell whisper-quiet in rapt attention as Mitski’s minimalist set pieces were changed. “You’ve been so wonderful,” said Mitski after closing the main set with “Fireworks.” When one fan did finally call out, “I love you,” the singer coyly responded in kind before leaving the stage.

The band encored with a pair of songs from Be the Cowboy. “Nobody” was performed as a disco rave-up and became a robust singalong with the audience. The sound of voices singing, “Give me one good honest kiss, and I’ll be all right,” filled the room. Following “Washing Machine Heart,” Mitski blew an honest kiss to her fans and made her exit.

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