Mitski led the charge of marching drums and a haunting bass line from a folding chair, seemingly unraveled with her legs splayed open, but her rigid posture gave her away. So, as she sang about hidden affections in sleek tones, she carefully slotted one leg over the other and closed herself once more.
The contained choreography Mitski performed throughout her sold-out Saturday night show at the 9:30 Club became the latest addition to her musical expression. The indie multi-instrumentalist stood in front of the audience with just her body as her instrument — her four-piece band took care of the rest — adding angular kicks and calculated shakedowns as she sang without excess.
Mitski’s control over her sound had gained wider recognition by 2014’s “Bury Me At Makeout Creek,” drenched in moments of blistering punk and lonesome folk. Then, by 2016’s “Puberty 2,” distorted guitars and a precisely measured lyrical map that pinpointed desire and desolation became synonymous with her music. But, not wanting to be pigeonholed, Mitski steered her latest album, “Be the Cowboy,” into a landscape of disco-inspired earworms, synth-heavy love notes and pop-tinged melodrama.
The theme of Mitski’s show was set when she seized the stage to the dramatic 1960s pop anthem “Era Vivere,” belted by famed Italian singer Mina. And just as Mina took control of her image throughout her career in the ’60s and ’70s, Mitski forged ahead to command her music as a singer-songwriter and, now, geometric dancer.
The meticulous flurry of her 24-song set translated the sometimes dour arrangements of her recorded catalogue into magnetic, vibrant moments.
With arms clasped squarely behind her back, Mitski opened with the explosive “Remember My Name,” her measured vocals guiding biting guitars through a storm of ambition and uncertainty. The dance-friendly “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” with a Robyn-esque introduction thrummed with punchy synths and Mitski’s jagged movements. And, when she finally did bring out an acoustic guitar to croon “A Burning Hill” alone on stage before her encore, her tender strumming served to polish the gems in her voice.
Beyond the calculated dance moves, Mitski’s vocals revealed a textured timbre that had felt largely flattened in recordings but became resonant and searing onstage. She wasn’t singing to soaring heights, but her voice had carved out dulcet spaces of necessary introspection that helped sharpen the delivery of her intricate lyrics.