Mitski at Union Transfer

Almost exactly one month after her first Philly stop, Mitski brought her Be the Cowboy show back to another sold out Union Transfer crowd. That first show was conveniently also the first of the tour’s North American leg, and with just a string of New York shows scheduled for the rest of 2018, Mitski’s two shows in Philadelphia seemed to open and close a chapter of the Cowboy story.

The feeling of that room matched that reality from the moment that openers Overcoats came onto the stage. The pop duo felt even more charismatic the second time around. Working through the same set, their songs somehow sounded more expansive, like they’d collected the support they had found in each city and channeled it into their last show of the tour. The joy and gratitude that accompanied their matching outfits and dancing left the crowd buzzing for the night’s headliner. Those of us stood strategically enough caught a glimpse of Mitski watching from backstage, disappearing just as quickly as she was spotted.

While Be the Cowboy might have been Mitski’s chance to explore the fictional, this show proved that she has never been realer. 

Sure, the choreography was nothing new. She alerted us of the new setup via Instagram announcement and fans scoured YouTube videos of her earliest Be the Cowboy performances to see what they could expect in the months to come. Despite this preparation, seeing it in person embedded her performance with a sincerity and vulnerability beyond what she presents in her music. Ranging from what passes for contemporary dance to the untrained eye to quite simply flailing onstage, her focus and dedication to the concept were as inspiring as they were arresting.

She said herself that she wasn’t a much of a talker between songs, preferring to let the music do the heavy lifting. Even so, I found some of the night’s most resonant moments in details like her exhale before the start of show tune-y “Me and My Husband” and the image of her shadow shrinking and growing as she paced back and forth across the stage to the old favorite “Francis Forever.” With this tour, she was able to bring a new dimension even to songs that I was seeing live for the third time.

Through her movement and her music, she touches on feelings we might all be familiar with, yet she seems to be the only one of us who’s brave enough to talk about them out loud. This courage only escalated as the set progressed, cresting when she held a guitar for the first and only time to  perform “A Burning Hill” to a silent crowd.

Last month, the encore consisted of both “Two Slow Dancers” and “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart,” a deeper cut off of her 2013 release, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. The second time around, however, she left out the latter. Instead, she ended the show with Be the Cowboy’s closing track, wordlessly waved to the crowd, and walked offstage, leaving everyone stunned, but undeniably connected to friends and strangers under house lights that seemed a lot harsher when the room was filled with scattered sniffles in the dark just moments before.

I realize this reads a lot weepier than a review typically might, but full engagement with Mitski demands surrender. Just as she gives through her music and her performance, I feel obligated to give her something in return, anything. On a tour where people bring their “whole ass lives” to the shows, creating any sort of critical distance sacrifices the reward of feeling so fully, even just for a night.