It was early on Sunday evening when I arrived at the Newtown Social Club; former Lisa Mitchell touring member Charmian Kingston – now performing under the moniker BUOY – had just kicked off her set, playing solo on the keys, with some pre-recorded samples. Her beautiful vocals were the most striking element of her performance, sometimes adding a loop or a vocal effect to give her music an extra ounce of depth.
“Exit” was a highlight of the set, and Charmain shared a story about it; “I made this song when I was with somebody and we would always take these long drives and I would always want to stop at the pretty beaches on the way, and he never wanted to. At the end of the relationship, I thought back on that and wrote this song.” Like Mitchell before her, she seems to lean on love and loss to form many of her numbers, and it works well – but it’s her impeccable voice that draws you in and keeps you there. A slight voice break as she set up a loop was the only indication she wasn’t super-human with those powerful vocal pipes. A promising talent indeed.
This weekend’s two shows at the Newtown Social Club were Mitchell’s first in Sydney since the release of her long awaited third album Warriors, which was released last week. The set naturally lent heavily on the new material, but she promised us early on a mix of new and old through the night, and she certainly delivered on a set which gave us a good trip down memory lane.
There were whispers and a potpourri of effects playing against a pulsating white light before Mitchell took to the stage, armed with a guitar and a mic resting against her face. She opened proceedings with a highlight off her new LP, catchy “Warhol”, as the stage was draped in red light. This was followed by its album opener “The Boys”, as Mitchell danced sans guitar in sequins and steamers, while a three piece band played behind her. “Coin Laundry” was third, and it does seem that she no longer has to plead with the crowd not to throw coins on stage while she performed, and the track understandably got a rousing reception for its early play. “Stevie” was another old favourite to sneak in early, and like “Laundry” before it, the track off her debut has aged well – sounding fresh with her current outfit. Though this may be in part thanks to her time away from the Australian touring circuit. It has been years since I’ve had the pleasure of hearing these songs live!
She switched to the traditional stage mic in time for “Pirouette”. BUOY then joined her for “Josephine”, a song about an “imaginary saint of sorts”, a powerful, emotional track that had Mitchell at her strongest vocally. She admitted that her manager, who she dedicated the song to, cried the first time she heard it. She went solo on guitar for “What is Love”, a beautiful love song. Always the friend to her fans, Mitchell welcomed a fan who had a tattoo inspired by one of her tracks, before jumping into “Spiritus” and “I Remember Love”, which once again saw Charmain (BUOY) joining on backing vocals; the two working marvellously together as though no time had past since their last tours together.
She hit the electric for main set closer “Oh! Hark!” which had the crowd singing, before returning for a brief encore of “Love, Death X” and the perfect set closer, “Clean White Love”, both of which saw Mitchell back on her acoustic guitar. A couple of brief guitar stuff ups during the set were the only way the acclaimed artist strived away from absolute perfection; like BUOY before her, it was subsequently the only way to know she was human. Across three albums and plenty of time on the road, she has become one of Australia’s finest musicians, both on stage and in the studio. Her latest record may be her strongest yet and it translates stunningly live, only adding to the quality and confidence in her earlier material. A solid backing band doesn’t hurt, either.
Lisa Mitchell performs at Jimmy’s Den in Perth on October 27th before heading to Rocket Bar in Adelaide on October 28th. For tickets and more details, head the thelisamitchell.com.
The reviewer attended the performance at the Newtown Social Club on 23rd November 2016.