Review by: Lauren Sherritt
Heading to Lisa Mitchell’s gig at The Tivoli on Friday night, I held some pretty general expectations as to what the “Oh! Hark!” tour would have in store for its Brisbane leg. Some of these expectations were met delightfully, others were interestingly challenged, and in all it was a memorable experience.
The Tivoli is undoubtedly the kind of venue you would expect to suit such a whimsical songstress as Mitchell. Upon entering the historic building it was easy to see, with gauzy material curtained from the stage’s rigging and washed colourfully by the bright lights, that this was true. Through strong sets by Georgia Fair and Boy and Bear, who both proved to be stunning choices as a lead in to Mitchell’s set and are definitely bands worth keeping an eye on, the sell-out audience waited, tantalized by the promise such a setting held for a beautiful evening with Mitchell.
The crowd itself proved to be the first of my wrong expectations. True, the majority was made up of the young women in dainty, pretty frocks that I had expected, but holding their own was a large number of burly, blokey men who, it seemed, were also very enthusiastic about seeing Lisa live. The difference between my anticipation of the night, and what would actually occur with the inclusion of these audience members showed itself about half an hour after Boy and Bear departed stage, when Mitchell still had not appeared. They were angry, they were vocal, and they were also very territorial when it came to the place where they and their friends were standing. Thus the serene, whimsical gig I had expected had in actuality exactly the same elements as any other live music event, where people sniped at strangers to get the best view and boasted to their friends how many times they had already seen the act live before.
The wait for Mitchell to appear began to grate on the nerves of others in the audience, with people around complaining that they had been standing and waiting in their spots for three hours, even though tickets clearly showed there would be two bands prior to the main act and common sense dictated that Mitchell would not be on early in the evening. It was in the end a relief when the band took their positions, and the crowd cheered as one as Lisa Mitchell took to the stage with her first song, Oh Nostalgia.
It’s the quality of Lisa Mitchell’s voice and the strong narratives within her lyrics which mark her as unique and have helped her skyrocket to fame in Australia over the last year. While delicate and soft, her music is also heartbreaking, playful, wild and tantalizing. There is more to Mitchell than a pretty face and pretty tunes and she is definitely not a one-trick pony. From the beginning of the set Mitchell astounded with her authenticity, sounding exactly like her recordings except, of course, with the added atmosphere of a sold out live event. There was definitely no case of the artist sounding better recorded and tweaked than live, and backed by a band featuring trumpet, double bass and violin as well as the standard percussion and guitars, the sound really packed a punch.
What was a little disappointing at this gig was Mitchell’s live persona. It is easy to tell from her music that she isn’t the most extroverted musician around, however with lyrics which seem to speak and delve so deeply and personally, an audience could hardly be blamed for expecting Mitchell to continue to share herself this freely on stage. For the majority of the time, however, her eyes were closed and she seemed to only vaguely appreciate that the audience was present. There was little interaction between herself and the crowd, at once stage she admitted, “I always feel disconnected in these big venues.” In the happier songs such as the well known Coin Laundry she seemed to struggle to look cheerful at all, while missing the beginning lyrics left her out of time with the music for the whole first verse of Jealous and she appeared dazed and unfocussed. Already smitten with her quirkiness and quiet charm, the audience accepted this aspect of her performance, however, and seemed to feed off her detachment, cries of “I love you Lisa” and many marriage proposals flying toward the stage at an increasing rate over the course of the evening. While for the most part the audience seemed content with the nearly one way relationship they maintained with Mitchell, it was off-putting to watch her as a musician struggle as she did, and it raises questions about the demands put upon artists to sustain their commercial productivity.
Mitchell did seem to relax slightly toward the end of the evening, producing a rousing version of Neapolitan Dreams for which the audience went wild. Hands clapping and dancing madly, the audience joined in with every chorus of, “la la las” along with the band and it was definitely the high point of the evening. Mitchell’s set list included all of the songs from her album, “Wonder”, plus four new tracks. In all, sixteen songs were played, a generous effort for the eager crowd, and complaints about the length of time it had taken for her to come on were long forgotten by the encore. Fittingly ending the set with “Oh! Hark!” Mitchell thanked the audience and left quietly to do whatever it is such an introspective seeming person does post-gig, while the audience poured out of the venue and on to the streets, buzzing with already cherished memories.
Photo Gallery: Lisa Mitchell @ The Tivoli, Brisbane 7 May 2010