The most surprising thing about the fast-rising Mitski Miyawaki's fastidiously excellent live show is how seamlessly the songs you know blended with the ones you might not. For more than 20 art-rock compositions that somehow moved at a Ramones clip (only two cuts on this year's highly regarded Be the Cowboy break three minutes), crunching abrasions like "I Don't Smoke" never punctured the yolk of ornately arranged scale-diving marvels like "Nobody," and melded comfortably in a way that playing their vastly different recorded versions side by side would not.

It was genuinely difficult to tell that say, the plaintive "I Will" was rescued from 2014's emo-leaning Bury Me at Makeout Creek rather than 2016's Puberty 2, which began to launch her acrobatic vocals and increasingly complex musical layerings into the St. Vincent territory of Cowboy. Onstage at Union Transfer Friday, the artist made her own Rosetta Stone of a catalog legible in one fluid language. (Mitksi will return to the Union Transfer stage Sunday, Nov. 18 for a sold out show.)

Mitski's incredible voice didn't strain at all to reach the lengths of "Geyser," possibly the most gymnastic rock song of 2018, vacuum-sealing an aria comfortably inside of 2:28, and her first great tune, "Townie" stood out more for its physically demanding ululations than its powerful imagery ("I want a love that falls as fast as a body from a balcony").

As a songwriter, her chord sequences can be simply astounding ("Happy," "Why Didn't You Stop Me?"), and as a performer, she let those achievements do the talking, with just the occasional word or two between them ("It feels really nice and kind of cozy today with y'all"). In fact, she didn't talk at all under after her seventh song, upon which she launched "A Pearl" with an intensity that stood out more than its Be the Cowboy version, or maybe the frenetic pace of all these reordered vignettes allowed them to shine at different angles.

Less surprising was the series of surefire knockouts — “Your Best American Girl,” “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” “Geyser,” “Happy” — capped with a more obscure ending of 2013’s “Goodbye My Danish Sweetheart” (“Maybe some of you know it if you are familiar with my Bandcamp”) rather than 2016’s beloved nervous breakdown “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” which rammed home their quiet domestic explosions with a backdrop of venetian blinds projected on the background screens.

Mitski’s choreography falls somewhere between interpretative dance and classic David Byrne, miming fainting/swimming motions at the finish of “Drunk Walk Home” or frantically waving at herself like she’s holding an invisible fan for “Happy.” But the way she paced the stage and pogoed for “Townie” was purely on the “rock” end of art-rock. She said something else toward the end, too: “This is my favorite thing to do.”
Few rockers this artsy or emo types this lacerating remind us so often that they’re in it for the pleasures of the ear, too. And even fewer come up with an anthem as world-swallowing as “Your Best American Girl,” much less with something to say about race.