Taking the Kogod Theatre stage with no accompaniment sans her own Epiphone guitar, indie-rock singer-songwriter Mitski mesmerized the NextNOW Fest crowd with her angelic tone and heart-wrenching lyricism. The 25-year-old performer commandingly glided through her nearly 40-minute, 12 song set with the gaze of her stern, serious face aimed just over the audience's human skyline.
The attendees, dressed casually in the comfortably occupied theater, were led to the performance through varying paths. Alex Wilson, a former University of Maryland student, was relatively unfamiliar with Mitski prior to arrival.
"I have never even really heard of this person outside of a Pitchfork review," Wilson said. "But I heard it's a free show."
Rae Herman, a junior neuroscience major at the University of Maryland and Mitski fan, was finally able to see the artist after past complications.
"I was going to," said Herman when asked if she had seen Mitski live. "But I got my wisdom teeth out, and I couldn't go."
The crowd may not have been fully aware of Mitski's music, but they sure as hell respected it. Whether there that night with resurgent chompers or for just a wallet-friendly show, the audience ultimately received praise from their unassuming star.
"Everything ran so smoothly [and] easily, and the crowd was so present," said Mitski in a post-performance Twitter exchange. "I felt so at ease on stage!"
Her only concern, a valid bother having personally seen the length of the pre-show line, was that not every person who would have wanted to was able to make it inside.
"Only unfortunate that the capacity was small and people couldn't get in," said Mitski in the same Twitter conversation. "I'll have to come again."
And, if she does, she'll be welcomed back whole-heartedly. Her opening number, a rendition of "Francis Forever" from her 2014 album Bury Me at Makeout Creek, had the couple next to me swaying, well, couple-like, to the melodious tune.
Her music, brutally transparent and genuinely sad, is complimented well by an impressive level of self-awareness and keen sense of humor. She mentioned in between her fifth and sixth song that she would keep telling the press that she was 25 despite her 26th birthday looming at the end of the month, joking that the student-based audience was too young to understand her plight. Before her 10th song of the night, Mitski took a moment to humanize herself to an audience that began to see her as godly.
"I'm paranoid that my lipstick is fucked," said the singer in a well-received display of self-deprecation.
The crowd quickly quelled her anxieties, flinging screams of compliment-filled takes on Mitski's lip aesthetic. They were hers, an audience transfixed by true talent, and she knew it.
"I'm gonna do my last song, and then my encore song, so when I leave I'm really gone," said Mitski before her 11th song of the night. "I feel like that's a metaphor for something."
Two songs later, and she was just that. Ending with "Last Words of a Shooting Star," a song from Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Mitski left the stage and the audience offered loud, unanimous applause towards the empty spot she so recently occupied.