Overcoats & Mitski at Union Transfer

Sometimes, you can look over at a friend and they give you a face that says, “Wow, this song is really good!” Overcoats had that look on their faces their entire set. Opening for Mitski on her Be The Cowboy Tour, the duo performed a set of stripped-down, minimalist pop songs. Backed by a drummer and pre-recorded accompaniment, they had their hands free to groove to the music, break out into synchronized dance moves, and sing in perfect harmony to each other.

Overcoats is Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell of New York, who met in college and began making music together, learning to harmonize and quickly forming a band. Their debut album, Young, was the focus of the show, but they also threw in some newer songs, which were distinct in their stronger pop influences and more lush arrangements, with more original samples. Their newest single, “I Don’t Believe in Us” is a good example, with an EDM beat yet melancholy and despondent lyrics. It’s a spiritual sibling to Mitski’s “Nobody,” and perfectly set the mood for a night whose theme would be “crying but jamming.”

The two are hypnotic to watch live, as they have what many bands pretend to have: chemistry. They flow from perfect unison to counterpoint without hesitation, always maintaining a sweet consonance. It also helps that their voices are so similar, like they were separated sisters, and within a song you can get lost and forget that they are separate entities.

I hesitate to call their drummer just that, percussionist fits better, considering her expertise handling both the actual drum set but also the electronic sounds, which came from a sample pad but fit incredibly smoothly into the rest of the rhythms. I tend not to be a fan of pre-recorded sounds, but when it comes so organically, it really can bring the digital to life.

Overcoats played through the most dramatic and impressive songs off of Young, from the intensely saccharine “23” to their hit single “Hold Me Close.” I regret that their most popular song, a cover of Hozier’s “Cherry Wine” didn’t make it to the setlist, as it far surpasses the original in terms of sheer ear-candy. However, their set was definitely strong, and certainly made an impression on the Mitski diehards who arrived early for the sold-out show (the house was packed by the time Overcoats entered, no one dared to miss a thing). Their set displayed their show-stopping vocal talents, musical range, and that undefinable groove that makes you want to dance, even when it also makes you want to cry.

Mitski’s set began with the jarring “Remember My Name,” stealing the scene with a set of three hanging screens which displayed static as she stood center stage, surrounded by a four-piece band. Mitski showed off her wide vocal range when performing, invoking operatic vocalizations over fuzzy guitars. Mitski focused primarily on her widely successful Be The Cowboy album from this past year, while also dipping into some hits from 2016’s Puberty 2 and 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek.

The show was also as much a visual presentation as it was aural. Mitski herself had choregraphed motions for most of the set, either convulsing her arms while singing, or wrapping the microphone around her neck slowly then unraveling it throughout the song. Meanwhile, background images shifted from song to song, sometimes overlapping and backtracking, the image of a blinking eye, a winding road, rain on a window. Mitski remained in front of them, drenched in sharp lights, which splashed her silhouette on the walls on either side. At times, she looked other-worldly, entirely awash in purple or red.

The set was an excellent reminder of Mitski’s range, between heavy punk sounds coming from Puberty 2 and the newer pop and showtune themes she brought on Be The Cowboy. She also reminded me of the eternal question I have about Mitski: “Is she alright?” The now-ascendant sensation that she is, she continues to give off incredible despair through her performance. I know this must be the primary draw for her target demographic of sad people. I would like to offer a piece of advice from not Mitski, but country legend Waylon Jennings:  “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”

Photo courtesy of Anna Azarov.