In the words of Mitski herself: “Who knew there was such a goth-tastic theater at the Ace Hotel?” Entering the historic Regent Theater in DTLA, is to enter a time capsule; the building’s colorful history manifested in ancient-looking gothic architecture, reminiscent of a long forgotten art. This hypnotic, dark craftsmanship proved to be the perfect setting for an intimate concert with none other than Mitski, the beloved, introverted artist whose somber, candid work with themes of loneliness and heartbreak has found an audience predominantly amongst Generation Z.
Opting to host the LA concert of her 2023 tour at the Regent Theater was seemingly a deliberate decision on Mitski’s part–everything about the show was designed to facilitate a certain intimacy with the artist and her work. Plush red cinema chairs ensured the audience could remain comfortably engaged with the concert, the cavernous interior facilitated fantastically high fidelity, and a strictly acoustic performance highlighted the delicate prose that can sometimes be overshadowed by distractions in the form of musical accompaniment. As Mitski herself mentioned, the show was a preview of her new album, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, with the intention of offering the songs “for what they were:” a collection of songs aligned with the themes of her earlier work yet masterfully articulated through metaphor.
Opening the night was Shana Cleveland, an artist also known as the frontwoman of surf rock band La Luz. “I wrote this song as a lullaby for my 4-year-old,” yet there was nothing juvenile about her hypnotic performance; rather “lullaby” seemed the perfect word to encapsulate the gentleness of Cleveland’s delivery, lulling the audience into a stupor as profound as that of an infant. Even when she picked up the pace, expertly fingerpicking her electric guitar, the vibe of her music remained hazy, dreamlike. Her performance was sweet yet intoxicating, luring an unsuspecting crowd in with the pretense of comfort before the brutal universe encapsulated by Mitski’s discography shattered the illusion. Cleveland’s performance was more than a lullaby. It was representative of an infant’s ignorance towards the cruelty and unfeelingness of the world, yet to be tainted by the selfishness and malice displayed by others.
The lights dimmed, painting the Regent Theatre’s gothic arcades an inky shade of blue; a somber welcome to the venerable Mitski, juxtaposed by shrieks from an ecstatic crowd. Accompanying her in a modest ensemble was producer Patrick Hyland on an acoustic guitar, and multi instrumentalist Jeni Magaña who donned an upright bass.
Strumming the intro of “Bug Like An Angel,” Hyland’s guitar set a delicate backdrop for Mitski’s sorrowful lyrics. With the decision to minimize instrumentation, Mitski’s voice became the performance’s focal point, therefore not only allowing her to showcase her impressive, at times operatic, vocal range, but also the prose within her deeply personal songs. A confessional track about religious allusions and false promises, “Bug Like an Angel” served as an introduction to the dark and complicated undertones present in Mitski’s writing.
Despite the extravagant venue, the three piece ensemble would not be accompanied by the expected backdrop, signage, or lightshow. Instead, their emotionally compelling sound was to be sufficient in holding the audience’s attention.
This performance was poetry. Mitski does not shy away from painful topics. Instead, she confronts them head on in songs such as “I Don’t Like My Mind,” in which she represents self destruction, or the grief and loneliness that is openly displayed in “The Frost.” These themes formed a seamless continuity between the songs, which when played live, became emotionally raw yet momentarily blissful.
After playing The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We in full, Mitski, to the profound excitement of the audience, changed the pace by finishing with a few of her older tracks.
The now teeming-with-excitement crowd likely would have needed no encouragement to sing along to Mitski’s most celebrated works, yet as Mitski gave her explicit blessing, the audience became a choir. To begin the second half of her performance Mitski played “Francis Forever” off of 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek. The absence of the crunchy bassline and treble-heavy drums present in the album version added more focus to her lyrics: “I don’t need the world to see / That I’ve been the best I can be, but / I don’t think I could stand to be / Where you don’t see me.” And despite the album approaching a decade since its release, the crowd at times seemed almost about to overpower Mitski’s delicate vocals; a theme common throughout this section of her performance.
Slowing down the tempo, the three piece also played the beloved “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” a lyrically gut-wrenching song which was made even rawer with the focus turned entirely onto Mitski. Complementing the emotional ballad by slowly kneeling to the floor, head bowed, Mitski was a manifestation of the sentiment expressed in “I Bet on Losing Dogs:” defeat.
Mitski “ended” the night’s set by playing “A Pearl,” off of 2018’s Be the Cowboy. Although this song is 5 years old, stripped down it was reminiscent both in theme and performance to her most recent release, serving as the perfect climax to a night celebrating both the new and old.
To the delight of the crowd, Mitski returned alone for a one song encore. Entering the stage with just an acoustic guitar, she gently strummed along to “A Burning Hill,” finishing with the words “I’ll love some littler things.” Taking a swift bow, Mitksi disappeared back into the blue shadows from which she had emerged just an hour before. Despite the brevity of her performance, Mitski succeeded in totally immersing the audience in her discography, providing a unique concert experience that worked in harmony with the nuances of a body of work meant not just to be heard, but also performed.
Listen to The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We: