Mitski stepped onto the stage at the Roundhouse and was immediately in character. As the Exorcist-inspired synths of Love Me More boomed behind her, she danced around the stage with the childish mannerisms of Alice in Wonderland. By the time she had exited the stage, 80 minutes and 23 songs later, she had pulled off a spellbinding set full of theatrical genius and stunning choreography.
Born Mitski Miyawaki, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter filled up the cavernous space of the Roundhouse with little difficulty. As the five-piece band played the synths and snares of her multi-genre oeuvre, from indie-rock to dream-pop, she danced along with heavily stylised choreography that mimicked the lyrics – and the feelings – of her songs. Take, for example, the moment when she plucks an imaginary peach from the air during indie-rock ballad First Love/ Late Spring. Or when she throws a full-blown tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor, during the headbanging skronk of Drunk Walk Home.
And the fans can’t get enough. They have developed a cult obsession with Mitski over the past decade. Some famous admirers have included Iggy Pop and Harry Styles, whose tour she is supporting later this summer. In the crowd, they mirror her dance moves as if possessed: during Should’ve Been Me, an upbeat number in the vein of Hall & Oates, they mimic her when she makes a knocking motion to the beat.
But Mitski has a complicated relationship with her fans, both deeply appreciative of their support but also wary of the claustrophobia that comes with large-scale fame. She stepped back from performing in 2019 and earlier this year accidentally involved herself in a social media tussle. The performative elements of the show felt at points like they were a way for her to distance herself from the character onstage.
For a set that spanned five albums and many more genres it felt remarkably coherent. Mitski effortlessly transitioned from Nobody, the four-on-the-floor dance number made famous (to some) by Tiktok, to I Will, a softer love song with strumming guitars. Likewise, there was no grouping in theme or lyrics, and it moved through Mitski’s complicated emotional catalogue like a surprise Pick N Mix of flavours and feelings.
As the gig came to an end, Mitski returned onstage for an encore of Two Slow Dancers, a beautiful and tender track about an old couple remembering their youth. It was refreshing to see Mitski on stage with no frills, singing directly to the audience. Spontaneously, the audience shone the lights on their phones to turn the Roundhouse into a planetarium. It was a reminder that even a great performance needs to go back to basics sometimes.