Mitski, Japanese Breakfast & Jay Som
July 12th 2016
@ The Cobalt
On the train over to Main St., I was listening to some old Mitski and looking over some questions that I prepared for Melina from Jay Som. Looking out the window, it occurred to me- like it really sank in – that this was the first show that I’d been to that featured Asian-American women musicians fronting every band on the bill.
When I arrived at the venue around 8 p.m. it was apparent that I was not the only person who had taken this into account. The quickly forming crowd in front of the stage and bar included Asian femmes and men, who made up a-larger-than-usual chunk of the audience, along with a bunch of white people (as per usual). It made me think about how much representation matters in our local music scenes. When the people frequently playing shows don’t look like you or have any understanding or consideration of your experience, going to events can be anxiety-inducing and even unsafe and isolating. It’s easy to feel like you don’t belong when the musicians and show-goers aren’t like you.
Jay Som walking up onto The Cobalt stage promptly at 9p.m., with around sixty to seventy people in the audience. Jay Som is Melina Duterte– an up-and-coming 22-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from the San Francisco Bay Area on her first national tour. After hooking up her guitar, she greeted the audience with a sort of reserved energy and launched right into her brief but sweet set. Duterte’s riffs and melodies were imaginative and catchy as hell, and her personal and reflective lyrics made me swoon along with others swaying around me. Duterte was playful and immersed in her performance, finishing up her set with “I Think You’re Alright,” one of a pair of singles that she released in late June through Fat Possum Records.
Lotusland had the opportunity to talk with Duterte after her set and had such a great time chatting with her that we unfortunately missed the entirety of Japanese Breakfast’s set. My pals who were there for the second band’s performance only had great things to say.
What I heard was that frontwoman Michelle Zauner was a badass who brought incredible energy to her performance. Zauner was quick to point out how every band performing on the bill, including hers, had an Asian American woman at its helm. She played primarily from her latest album Psychopomp. The experimental bedroom indie pop of Japanese Breakfast was dreamy and cosmic.
By the time Mitski Miyawaki took to the stage, the Cobalt had become a sauna – with the red-hued stage lights somehow intensifying the cruel humidity for the sweaty yet determined crowd. It took a moment to fully take in that Mitski had gotten on stage, as she (like Melina and Michelle before her) was coolly doing her own tech. Before addressing the audience, she triple-checked with the sound dude who told her that he couldn’t bring up her vocals any higher: “That’s all you can give me?”
“Um…That’s all there is.” The defeatedness in the sound guy’s response made most of the anxious crowd break out into laughter and smiles, relaxing the humid, tense room.
The New York-based indie rocker played equal parts from her latest album Puberty 2, which came out in June, and from her third studio album Bury Me At Makeout Creek. She was everything – but witty, powerful, and vulnerable, most of all. Throughout her performance, Mitski’s music and her performance style seemingly betrayed each other. Her deeply personal lyrics and ballad-like delivery challenged her physical reserve– throughout her set Mitski rarely moved beyond her mic stand, revealing a certain undeniable tension about her.
Despite the venue’s limited sound system, Mitski easily competed with her drummer Casey for loudest in the room with a striking cover of Calvin Harris’ “How Deep is Your Love.” Mid-set, the cluster of token bro-y white boys to the left of the stage started a (surprisingly well-received) mosh pit during “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” with Mitski belting “Would you kill me in Jerusalem / Come find me,” in rapid succession. At the song’s end, Mitski smirked speaking directly to them, “If you came here to mosh… that’s kind of like sex on the first date – you look forward to it for so long and then it’s over so soon.” Quick to start and drawn out cruelly in its end, her songs “A Burning Hill” and “Last Words of a Shooting Star” closed the transfixing performance with her arguably most heartbreaking, drawn-out lyrical work: “And you’d say you love me and look in my eyes / But I know through mine you were / Looking in yours.”
Photos by Imogen Broberg-Hull.