I don’t imagine there’s much that can pack the Cobalt on a humid Tuesday night, but then again Mitski’s North American summer tour — supported by Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som — is no ordinary show. Running for just over a month with sold out shows all along the route, Mitski herself is plenty draw to pack a room. A full set of deeply talented, Asian-American musicians, made it almost too good to be true. And the Vancouverites sardined into the Cobalt on July 12 knew it.
Accordingly, Jay Som — San Fran’s Melina Duterte — started to a full room. Taking the stage solo with just a guitar, Duterte’s vocals were perfectly pitched, her voice strong, nimble, and clear. The crowd was distinctly quiet and still as Duterte played, but as the hearty applause between songs suggested, the quiet was not boredom or shyness, but a full and well-warranted attention. Closing out with her first official release, “I Think You’re Alright,” Jay Som left a strong impression of things to come.
Psychopomp, the first album by Michelle Zauner’s project Japanese Breakfast, is a tightly constructed ‘80s-tinged experience of an album; seeing much of it played live was a delight. “In Heaven” broke the crowd’s stillness, as they started to sway in the sweaty room. Zauner displayed her impressive vocal range, moving through sweet pop lightness on “Everybody Wants to Love You” to the powerful open nasal heights of “Jane Cum.” Zauner was funny, cracking jokes alongside her energetic and dexterous playing, and followed deftly by her bassist and drummer.
Commenting on her tour with Mitski, Zauner spoke to the benefits of having another Asian-American on the road, mentioning how good it is to have someone to understand the importance of her rice cooker puffing away backstage.
“That’s survival,” Zauner said. When laughs bubbled up from the crowd, Zauner quickly shot back: “Not funny, that’s what it is.”
Watching Mitski perform is not dissimilar to listening to one of her albums. Despite a packed room, it feels confessional, like a late night heart-to-heart composed of only the most articulate and poignant thoughts. Joined only by a drummer onstage, Mistki moved easily through a set mostly comprised of songs from Bury Me at Makeout Creek and her newest release Puberty 2. Exploring themes of sex, love, and millennial malaise, Mistki preached to a rapt choir, popping in a cover of Calvin Harris’ “How Deep Is Your Love.”
The end of the night was brought back to one woman and her guitar. Mitski took the stage all for herself, and let us in on the debate she was having on whether or not to close out with two quiet songs. Luckily she opted for it, saying, “let’s not do any encores…no one wants to do any more after we’ve climaxed.”
I’m sure the crowd would have been happy to extend the afterglow through some more songs, but we would have to be happy with our lot. As Mitski said about moshing: it’s “like sex on a first date, you look forward to it so much and then it’s over so soon.”