Music review: Mitski, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Mitski’s Usher Hall show was intense and intimate but never less than theatrical, writes Jay Richardson

Mitski, Usher Hall, Edinburgh *****

Returning swiftly after her recent intimate, acoustic dates, Mitski launched her UK tour in Edinburgh with a mesmeric performance, her songwriting verve supplemented by hypnotic choreography.

The intensity of the Japanese-American singer’s fanbase has been much remarked upon, yet that devotion feels entirely understandable up close. Though not without sly humour, her lyrics ache with candid disclosure and vulnerability, her crystalline, penetrating vocals making a direct, cutting address to the listener. But this show with full band is never less than theatrical.

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Mitski PIC: Helle Arensbak/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty ImagesMitski PIC: Helle Arensbak/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images
Mitski PIC: Helle Arensbak/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Augmented by imaginative lighting and understated design flourishes, Mitski capers, prostrates and deports herself across the stage with liminal vitality and variety. Her latest album, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, has a country flavour and frequent slide guitar sound. Yet at moments during this Edinburgh show she resembled a wraith-like Liza Minelli in the twilight of the Weimar Republic, wrapping and winding herself around a chair.

Elsewhere, she appeared initially in silhouette, danced a tender embrace with a spotlight and mimed slitting her own throat, a Gothic Americana ambience never far from the angstier numbers.

Working For The Knife exemplifies that eerie sense of insecurity, a lush, synthy ballad, washed in a feeling of exhaustion, registered all over her expressive face. But then the plaintive, yearning I Bet On Losing Dogs, finds her cartoonishly scurrying, canine-like, on all-fours.

On her neo-country, bonafide hit My Love Mine All Mine and into the morbidly detached Last Words Of A Shooting Star, shards of transparent plastic descended from strings, radiating light and encircling her, before she belatedly dispatched them heavenwards once more with flicks of her wrist.

In her occasional, between song patter, Mitski proved an absolute charmer, joking about being the “weird little cousin” to her Scottish relatives. And she crowned her encore with the dreamy disco of Nobody before the brutal but equally danceable Washing Machine Heart.