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Let’s wind the clock back to 2006. A shy 16-year-old from Albury appeared on Australian Idol, a reality show hell bent on discovering new artists. A delicate vocalist with vulnerable mannerisms, she wowed viewers with renditions of songs and truly made them her own, which, along with the audacity of performing her own songs in the elimination stages, saw her as one of the few legitimate artists to graduate from the popularity contest. I still recall sitting in my parent’s lounge room as Idol played in the background, and hearing a moving rendition of the Coldplay B-side See You Soon that saw her story tell a tale of love and loss that belied her years. Roll forward 6 years: an EP and two albums later, Lisa Mitchell has truly become the artist that was so promising those many moons ago.
Speaking of moons, on this day of All Hallows Eve, Melbourne natives Alpine, coming off recent multiple sell-out shows at the Corner Hotel, found themselves in the unfamiliar territory of playing second fiddle tonight. Not that it appeared anything of a hindrance. Despite the added obstacle of playing to a seated crowd, where in-between song banter was often followed by awkward pauses, co-vocalists Lou James and Phoebe Baker lead the band on a merry dance of songs from their J Award-nominated album A is for Alpine.
Whilst getting into the Halloween spirit with their outfits, James jokes about their running make-up as being suitable enough costume to scare any trick or treaters that should come their way. Hands, Too Safe and latest single Seeing Red are all performed with the assurance of a band confident in the abilities of themselves and of each other. They closed their set with feel good song of the year Gasoline. If Alpine were counting on winning new fans tonight, they could rest easy knowing they had.
Touring the nation celebrating the release of her sophomore album Bless This Mess, it was time for Mitchell’s adopted hometown of Melbourne to experience the wonders of the album in a live setting for the first time. Walking on stage under the cover of darkness, Mitchell with her 4-piece band ease their way into the night with Bless This Mess opener Providence. It builds from its piano and delicate vocal beginnings into a crescendo of joy that leaves the audience in no doubt of Mitchell’s song-crafting abilities. Brilliant in its structure, it almost draws tears as it softly fades out while Mitchell affirms “I’m here, I’m here”. She certainly had arrived. Older moments like Stevie, Clean White Love and Oh! Hark! are cleverly given new leases of life, with the freshened versions coming across like they’ve been heard for the first time all over again.
Spiritus, the first single off her latest album, lifted the tone with its upbeat keyboard driving the song, but not to the extent that Mitchell’s unique vocals are swallowed in the mix. Rather, they soar above the infectious melody like the ravens depicted in The Story of the Raven and the Mushroom Man, paying homage to Claire Bowditch, who introduced her to Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince when she was 16 years old, and it has finally inspired the writing of a song about its characters. Mitchell maintains her sense of vulnerability in between songs, with some awkward pauses and sometimes confusing banter that gets lost in its course from Mitchell to the audience, but this only reinforces that which draws the audience to Mitchell in the first place: as a young woman still finding her place, but game enough to stand in front of everyone to tell them about it.
She introduces The Land Beyond The Front Door with reference to a love story where she would travel from room to room with her partner in a slow waltz that saw them in a magical land of their own. With its delicacy not lost on the audience, it’s a pleasure to go behind the inner workings of the constructions of some of the more personal moments of the album. Softer moments such as this and Pirouette, off 2009's Wonder, take the audience on a personal journey where it beggars belief that a young woman of her age could have the ability to tell.
Lifting the tempo, Mitchell brings on stage the members of Alpine, and Danco, as well as Clare Bowditch and Lanie Lane, during The Present, as they all gather round the various microphones positioned around the stage to celebrate the embodiment of the song, being happy in the present. It seemed everyone in attendance well and truly were. Closing the set with Bless This Mess, which perhaps sees the best band performance of the evening – with all instruments, not to mention the band members, coming together as a whole.
Not yet satisfied, the stamping of feet on the floor of the Athenaeum Theatre drew Mitchell and co back. This time they come armed with Halloween costumes, with Mitchell aptly draped in angel wings, as the introductory bass notes of crowd favourite Coin Laundry began to set the audience off once more. Humble and genuine in her thanks, Mitchell is a gentle soul who is appreciative of everything she is blessed with. Closing the encore, an alternative version of Neopolitan Dreams starts, but then merges into the more familiar version the audience is used to, with Alpine, Danco, and co rejoining the stage, celebrating the evening for a final time while singing the familiar ba da, ba da da da das. As Mitchell and her band bow for the audience and leave the stage for the final time, the audience are earnest in their applause and honest in their appreciation, having witnessed her progression as an artist from shy 16-year-old to the mature young woman that melts hearts with her wonderful songwriting abilities.
The audience spill out into Collins Street, many still humming the chorus of Neopolitan Dreams. It was the sort of night that left you wanting more, but knowing you had experienced enough until the next round.