The Year Of The C-ck Block has robbed us of our civic liberties to the point where pretty much the last gig Melburnians had the opportunity to enjoy was New Order at Sidney Myer Music Bowl back in March (Saturday March 14, to be precise) – almost nine months ago!
[Our last IRL live review published was Golden Plains 2020, on March 11 – madness. – Ed.]
Advertised time for doors this evening is 8.30pm and we happily arrive on time, admiring the bronze statue of Molly Meldrum – holding his beloved dog Ziggy in one hand and doing a thumbs-up with his free hand as if to say, “Live music’s back, baby! Do yourself a favour!” – while joining the orderly queue that has formed rounding the corner from the Corner.
Initially booked as limited capacity, seated shows (no dancing allowed!), Alice Ivy’s pair of Don’t Sleep launches – for her sublime second studio album, which was released on April Fool’s Day this year (read our interview with the artist here) – have since been supersized to also include standing room tickets in accordance with the further easing of indoor venue capacity restrictions. Scoring a table down front is a bonus for early arrivals. Furthermore, you can now order booze (including wine by the bottle!) to be delivered directly to your table, using a QR code – win! And dancing is even permitted now – woo-HOO!
Strings of fairy lights decorate the Corner’s interior and the vibe is hella festive as we enjoy the selection of Christmas carols pumping through the venue sound system, while pondering whether or not to bestow an elbow bump or warm hug upon legends we haven’t been able to appreciate IRL since the beginning of 2020.
This evening’s support act, Elizabeth, takes the stage with two backing musicians. Theirs is a whimsical aesthetic – pinks and neutral tones, translucent sleeves, satin slip dresses – and Elizabeth’s gloriously airy vocals transport us somewhere between Twin Peaks and Dido; she also channels some cool Martha Davis (The Motels) nonchalance. There’s plaintive bass and drum beats with plenty of swing – sometimes played using mallets. Elizabeth then spruiks her merch, which includes some undies (not her actual knickers but rather Elizabeth-branded undies, she hilariously clarifies). Beautiful Baby is a set highlight and Elizabeth’s dreamy brand of indie washes over like a soul massage; it’s sad-sack music of exquisite beauty.
Alice Ivy’s intro track is a slice of genius: Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You! The mastermind behind the Alice Ivy moniker, Annika Schmarsel, hits the stage dancing furiously alongside her guitarist Luy Amiel – it’s so wonderful to see their beaming smiles, unmasked. And they look like an all-dancing Universal Store commercial up there: Schmarsel reps Nike in a sick matchy-matchy, coral-and-cobalt streetwear look of long-sleeve top and shorts; Amiel favours a pastel pink Puma ensemble. “Melbourne, we’re f-cking back!” Schmarsel extols. “Let’s all forget about the year we’ve just had and live in Mariah Land!”
Let’s face it, we’ve even missed the Corner’s famous pole, which was given a fresh coat of black paint during iso and also now features eyes and a regulation face mask. When the urge to dance takes hold throughout the evening, those in the seated section flock to this structural pole – situated bang-smack in the centre of the venue – so as not to obstruct the views of those who prefer to remain bums on seats.
That escalating All Hit Radio vocal hook propels more punters to their feet for a boogie and dancing in public after being restricted to only doing so in our bedrooms/homes for so long makes us feel like we’re at Bomont Senior Prom (you’ve seen Footloose, right?). Schmarsel reveals they’ll be performing some of the songs from Don’t Sleep for the very first time this evening. After fluttering synth, Get Me A Drink’s drop knocks us sideways as our muscle memory recalls long-forgotten dance moves. A glistening prize of a tune, Chasing Stars further increases the number of dance enthusiasts cutting shapes in the house.
Schmarsel tells us she immediately bonded with Thelma Plum while creating Ticket To Heaven, the track on which she features, during the intro to this song. Her usual slew of guest artists are absent this evening – in light our our current ‘COVID normal’ venue capacity and border challenges – but Schmarsel’s singing, guitar and bass playing skills just get better and better, and we’re way too pumped to even notice. Live drumming adds so much to the dynamics of this show and of her drummer, Joel Cooper, Schmarsel enthuses, “He’s like family to me!”
It’s peak party time – “I’ll kick it with you!” – come Sunrise, with Cadence Weapon’s criminally smooth rap contributions transporting us to a lit rooftop soirée. Before closer In My Mind, Schmarsel takes some time out to teach us the, “In-side my miiiiiiiiind,” part of the call-and-response chorus and we don’t need any encouragement to get involved. Watching musicians being able to share stages again – and do what they were put on this Earth to do – is incredibly heartwarming. It just feels so bloody good to be at an actual gig again! And those joyous onstage smiles don’t lie. Schmarsel concludes the show by announcing she’ll be hanging at the merch desk post-show to meet and greet her loyal fans.
We float out of the Corner on cloud nine, spewin’ that deadlines for end-of-year best-of polls have passed. Had they not, Alice Ivy would’ve topped this scribe’s Best Australian Performance of 2020 list!