Mitski Tables Talk of Her Farewell at Stern Grove Festival

The musician’s last local appearance for some time rose to the occasion.

If you haven’t heard, Mitski will soon be taking a break.

Last month, the artist referred to an upcoming September gig in Brooklyn as her “last show indefinitely.” The phrasing set-off a panic for Mitski fans, who, it should be noted, can sometimes be a little extra in their more than understandable appreciation of her. Shortly after her first post, she added another message — one no doubt intended for any who somehow interpreted Mitski’s reasonable desire to take some time off following the recording, promotion, and touring of an acclaimed album as her quitting music altogether.

“I’ve been on non-stop tour for over five years,” she wrote on Twitter (she has since deactivated her account). “I haven’t had a place to live during this time and I sense that if I don’t step away soon, my self-worth/identity will start depending too much on staying in the game.”

Mitski’s desire to not be defined by a spotlight is easy to understand in the wake of the mounting fame she’s enjoyed following the release of 2016’s Puberty 2 and 2018’s Be the Cowboy. Her heightened profile has also introduced fans to her first three albums: Lush (2012), Retired from Sad, New Career in Business (2013), and Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014). Taken together, they represent a career of astonishing promise. 

On a predictably overcast Sunday afternoon, Madeline Kenney was tasked with opening the show. If Kenney’s music was somewhat quiet for the often less-than-attentive crowd, that was solely the latter’s loss. An incredible musician in her own right, Kenney gave the Stern Grove audience a generous helping of her excellent new album, Perfect Shapes.

Shortly thereafter, Mitski began what would ostensibly serve as her final Bay Area performance for the foreseeable future. Again, almost any artist in Mitski’s position should (and often does) take a break after a substantial period of touring, but there’s no denying that she will be missed for however long she’s gone.

Performing to a notably younger than usual Stern Grove crowd, the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter delivered a set that was focused rather evenly on her last three records. The 22-song retrospective (with one song a piece from Lush and Retired) also featured a prominent cameo from a piece of furniture. 

The guest star in question was a table, which, it turns out, has been accompanying Mitski on tour as of late. At first, it didn’t register. How could a simple hunk of wood be used to elevate the performance of someone already so exceptionally talented at connecting with her audiences? Then Mitski climbed up.

There’s really nothing that should have made the sight of Mitski standing upon a table so remarkably different from all the other musicians who have likewise stood atop things in their unquenchable thirst to rock — but there was. Perhaps it was the lush confines of Stern Grove. Likely the understanding that this was to be our last ride with Mitski for some time played a role.

Regardless of how it came to be, there was a palpable sense among the crowd that something special was occurring. Sure, it might’ve been the setting or the context. It’s also possible that this is simply the majesty of a Mitski show.

Depending on the nature of the song, Mitski used the fairly large table as a dancing partner, a lover, a dance floor, a shelter, and seemingly anything else you can imagine. Far from playing up the theatricality of the moment, she instead opted for a slow burn that found her leaving and returning to the table throughout her performance.

A static contrast to Mitski’s constant movement — which included bicycle kicks on her back and a crucifixion pose (or what certainly seemed like one) — it managed to build tension, serve as a punchline, and generally just made for an exciting and original twist on the standard rock show.

While largely silent during her performance, Mitski did take a moment to address the crowd shortly before concluding her three-song encore with “Carry Me Out.”

“Thanks for letting me do my favorite, favorite, favorite thing,” she said, still slightly out of breath. “Thank you for connecting. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you so much.” 

 

 

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