Live Review: Lisa Mitchell

15 March 2010

Anglia Ruskin University – 4th March 2010

Lisa Mitchell, 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Australia, still remains relatively obscure in the U.K. You may have heard ‘Neopolitan Dreams’ off that Surf washing powder ad last year. The one where the girl tumbles through sheets, down the mattress pathway into a Mediterranean world. “It’s gorgeous” Lisa remarks. “Like Alice in Wonderland. It’s whimsical. It suits the song perfectly.”

Indeed, the word “whimsical” aptly encapsulates Lisa’s music – simple music for summer days, nagging at fuzzy childhood memories. Why are the dreams Neopolitan? “Why not? Because they are vanilla and pink and strawberry and chocolate. They’re just good dreams.”

But Lisa is far more than full of dreams; there’s an intensity apparent when she talks about her music. Her songs are highly personal, born out of her journals that she updates when she can. She’s not keen to jump into any collaborations: “I like writing by myself. I write songs about my friends and the people closest to me.”

Not that she hasn’t already accrued some pretty impressive collaborations in her musical portfolio, notably with Andy Barlow (Lamb) and Sacha Skarbek (Adele). “The magical people behind the scenes made it happen. I was trying to work out who I could get to record the album…I went to Dublin to write with Andy. It was a lot of fun – we had sloe gin in his caravan.”

Her debut album, Wonder, was released last year in July and reached number 6 in Australia. The end of the year saw her nominated for three ARIA music awards, an experience which she describes as “very humbling.” She was invited to perform ‘Coin Laundry’ at the show, and having just returned from two months in London, the evening was the ultimate reunion party with her family and friends.

Tonight sees Lisa play Cambridge for the third time. She and her band take the stage and launch into ‘So Jealous’, a slow-burning folk-infused number. Sadly plodding in its progression and with volume levels not quite right, it makes for an underwhelming opening,

Most well known single ‘Neopolitan Dreams’ follows in a bold setlist move. The crowd leap to the opening xylophone and gentle guitar, and accompany the band with the ba-da-bas. And although there’s some joyful skipping near the front – it’s a track that appeals to everyone’s inner child – Lisa’s distinctive, youthful voice somehow gets lost. No amount of enthusiastic bouncing of the bassist can hide the fact that this is a band who are evidently not used to playing together.

But just before the whole show flops, the band gathers together and Lisa Mitchell begins to really shine. Swaying to the music, she delivers a set that is replete of the whimsicality and intensity she conveyed beforehand. Totally absorbed, she doesn’t have a stage presence that reaches out and grabs you, but her music gently caresses the senses. A couple of songs later and everyone in the room is hooked.

“All the animals are go-one,” she sings. Who knows what animals and where? Her music makes for daydreams. This is perhaps why following track and successful single ‘Coin Laundry’ has also been used in adverts – everyone invents their own imaginary backdrop to it. Soon the room is united by the simple refrain: “Do you have a dollar for me?” It’s simply stunning.

Yet the other standout track of the evening has to be her cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Alone on the stage, Lisa gives a performance so emotional that it feels as if the entire play has been condensed into those four minutes.

Although the live setup needs some work, tonight’s show is testament to Lisa’s ability as a singer-songwriter. Judging by the quality of songs on offer, the future won’t be just a dream for Lisa Mitchell – we’ll hear much more from her yet. Look out for her this summer when she returns to the U.K. to hit the festival circuit.

Phoebe Amoroso

Photo Credit: Pia Sears