Mitski with Half Waif – 7/17/2017 Vaudeville Mews

On the afternoon of my 37th birthday, I sat chest deep in the brown water of an Army Corps of Engineers created lake in the middle of a state park while being pelted with sand by my seven-year-old daughter, who sometimes does jerk things. This lake was about 4 miles south of my hometown, but it was the first time I had taken my kids there. I don't deal much with my hometown nowadays. I tie too much of my mental scars to it. I'm so far removed from that place that all I remember of it is the anxiety of trying to survive it.

I never went out to this beach much growing up, either, even though I've always really liked it. It was a fairly popular spot where cute girls in my high school went in their cute bathing suits, alongside their cute boyfriends and their teenage football player physiques. I was too skinny and I had bad skin, so taking off my shirt was out. I couldn't swim in a shirt either, because that would make things too obvious. So, I just never went to the beach because I didn't want to deal with the hassle no matter the joy I'd get from the activity.

I still carry a lot of that anxiety with me. Doing, well, anything in public is tough, because what if they all laugh at you? What if you show up and people think you're strange? What if they talk about you, your hair, your skin, your teeth, your clothes, the company you keep or the company you don't keep?

To this day, I often find myself looking to avoid these situations by not bothering to go out. It's just easier. I use money as an excuse a lot, even though I could go to a show for less than $20 pretty regularly and often less than $10 (I need extra money to ply myself with booze in order to survive, so it's kinda true, but also not). I use the excuse of not wanting to go by myself, even though I have a pretty extended group of friends I rarely see and even more rarely invite anywhere. It's just easier to not try and so much less stressful.

I was sick the day of the Mitski show with some sort of stomach bug. It had floored me enough that my brain started to kick in. It told me that I should just stay home because I was sick and everyone was just going to laugh at the old man with the big gut singing along at a show he was at least fifteen years too old to attend, anyway, so I should stay home.

I didn't listen, though. I was determined. I knew this was special. I had been listening to Puberty 2 all year. I knew the next time she came back to town, it wouldn't be in an ~200 person venue where I could comfortably stand inches from the stage. I fought all of my inner thoughts and all of my usual demons and I showed up.

I leaned on the wall to the left of the opening act Half Waif, a solo electronic musician in a sparkly dress. I had gotten there a couple minutes late as I had to finish my drink at the restaurant across the street and wait for my friend Casey. Luckily, there was a spot inches from the stage.

We stood and took in the rest of Half Waif's set. She was quite the artist and composer. She moved from ambient to fierce with a press of a button and a strain of her voice. She was a humble mix of Grimes and Kate Bush with smart and emotional lyrics that forced the listen to pay attention. I found myself gravitated towards her between song banter which seemed so normal and sweet, with no hint of pretension or snobbery. Then she would hit another provocative and world altering song. It's nice to be reminded that these mind-bending artists are also just regular people.

Mitski and her band took the stage next and mesmerized. Not much for banter, they ripped through an hour-plus set featuring a bulk of Puberty 2, but older tracks, as well.

What Mitski does better than most is lyrics. Her wit and presence in the face of loss, love, depression and life carries her beyond many others that tackle similar themes. They're big, emotional moments that could be silly in the hands of someone less gifted, but instead come of as clever and learned, and even more so live.

Mitski is a charismatic performer, but not in a Mick Jagger way. She's soft-spoken and somewhat stoic, but also emotional. The songs are about a lot of trying things, so I don't imagine they're easy to sing, but the sullen expression speaks to me.

Listening to the album itself, I can take in the lyrics on their own. I can find myself seeing the performer detached from the lyrics; the author as a storyteller instead of an heartfelt, autobiographical release.

I get the intent and purpose in her songs, because I can relate. I relate to "Dan the Dancer" and his bedroom dance routine. I relate to "My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars" because I can't count the number of times I've repeated "I better ace that interview."

Live, though, it's impossible to detach Mitski from her lyrics. Here's someone using their words, their wit to show their pain and seeing her perform, you can tell how much these songs mean to her.

While I relate to the songs on their own, seeing her perform them live, I now relate to Mitski. I relate to the sadness and pain and trying to use a wry sense of humor to overcome all of that because lord knows I've done it. I can relate to wanting to talk about all of the things on your mind openly because you have a gift and a desire in the face of struggle.

I also relate to the fact that, were I to hazard a guess, she didn't want to be there either. I don't mean this as a knock. Her performance suggested an aloofness or even anger, but it absolutely wasn't. Her performance was a fight in and of itself. It's tough to put yourself out there and maybe I'm projecting, but anxiety is a bastard ghoul who sucks your soul, and it can sometimes be easy to spot. Seeing someone fight through discomfort really helped me to understand what I deal with daily because leaving your soul exposed in front of a crowd of strangers is way more nerve-rattling than just being in public. If she's willing to do that, than the least I can do is show up.

I'm glad I went. I'm glad I experienced this. I'm glad I didn't give in to my dueling sicknesses, both mental and physical. I'm glad Mitski was here and I'm happy I saw her perform and I'm glad she's so willing to give so much of herself.

Love and joy and inspiration and goodness and just relating to and interacting with the human condition is what life is supposed to be, even if your brain tells you otherwise. Because the more you learn to love others you'll see how little they actually affect your enjoyment. The more you let yourself go, the more you find solace and comfort in that same humanity that is also, like you, just trying to survive.


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