Mitski Miyawaki is at the top of her game. The Japanese American singer-songwriter has curated a distinct brand of indie rock, a style she is taking to audiences across the country on her Be the Cowboy Tour to promote her latest release by the same name. The album, hailed by many publications as one of the best of the year, is a pop rock reclaiming of Western tropes and a challenge of the status quo.
On Sunday, the artist brought droves of fans to Canton Hall for the kind of show you brag to your friends about seeing, forever granting one possession of the “Yes, but have you seen her live?” cool card. If the size of the Canton Hall crowd is any indicator, then Mitski mania is alive, well and on the rise in Dallas, and rightfully so.
Canton Hall’s website states that the venue can hold up to 1,100 people, and the sold-out crowd was already threatening to reach that number well before the opening act took the stage. The grungy, alt-rock Canadian quartet Dilly Dally was met with a warm reception from an audience practically seething with anticipation and delivered a performance worthy of the ample applause they received from the droves of eager fans. But few sets can prepare an audience for the type of show Mitski delivers, a bravura act that was at once powerful and restrained.
As soon as the first few notes of “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart" filled the hall, the audience roared with glee. Mitski, donned in a cropped white T-shirt, stepped somberly onto the stage, crooning about a love gone by. Many of Mitski’s tunes are infused with this kind of melancholia: despair-ridden ballads that hide themes of loneliness and wistfulness beneath poppy choruses. That juxtaposition makes her music compelling; her off-the-wall stage behavior makes for a great show.
Mitski employed her usual sidekicks — sporadic, synthy sounds and enviable guitar chops — along with a nervy light display to deliver an emotive, disorienting show, but her secret weapon was her undeniable stage presence. Every step, twist and strut was met with zealous approval from an audience that could not be let down. That zeal seemed to reach its zenith early on, when Mitski flexed her acrobatic muscles alongside her vocal ones during “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” one of the moody tracks from Be the Cowboy. The show was full of moments like this: Mitski pacing the stage, seemingly in a daze, before erupting with emotion, her head turned to the heavens in a defiant gaze, or her arms thrown up in the air, beckoning an imaginary challenger to do their worst.
Whether while playing recent singles like “Nobody” or throwbacks like “Your Best American Girl,” Mitski melded her wide range of emotive songs into one cohesive story, a tale driven by a performance bursting with boisterous theatricality. Mitski has always wielded her emotions — joy, anger, sorrow, despair — as a weapon, crafting intense songs that reclaim her power from the ashes of a torrid, tortuous love affair. Be the Cowboy does this better than any of her previous albums, defying the stereotype that emotive records from female artists are sad confessionals.
Sure, Mitski’s Canton Hall performance was at times a sad affair. But when she closed with “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” a song whose title pretty much says it all, even fans in the far back could see Mitski’s wicked grin, a knowing smile evocative of mischief, glee and rebellion.