Wouldn’t you know it: ISOL-AID has once again stolen our hearts, minds and weekends clean away from us, and to be quite frank? We’re okay with that. Vol. 2 of the innovative Insta Live festival (about which we spoke to one of its co-creators, Emily Ulman, just a few days ago) offered its fair share of majestic moments; here are our top five sets.
Alex The Astronaut
Performing a set comprising covers and her own originals for ISOL-AID, Alex The Astronaut (Alexandra Lynn when she’s in her civvies) starts off with Justin Bieber’s One Less Lonely Girl. We then score her version of Julia Jacklin’s Don’t Let The Kids Win, and Lynn glances at a screen beside whatever device she’s using to record for lyrical prompts, at one point pausing mid-song to manually scroll down to the next part. Lynn admits she finds this experience “scary”, like one-way FaceTime.
After viewers are given a choice between Wonderwall by Oasis or Groceries by Mallrat, she instructs her Mum, Gab Lynn, to decide via comment – and then Groceries it is! But first, Alexandra Lynn has a little whinge about the fact that there is a baked beans shortage right now. She then previews a new song she calls Split The Sky, which comes out this week, saying, “It’s about all my feelings.” Sample lyrics: “If I sit here and watch Harry Potter, will I be alright?” After drumming up a round of applause for our healthcare workers, Lynn leaves us with I Think You’re Great and it’s fair to say the feeling is mutual.
Sunday Roast is Courtney Barnett’s opener and she accompanies herself on guitar. Reading some of the comments as they scroll up her screen, Barnett smiles and chuckles as she recognises usernames/friends. She then covers a Wilco song, Dawned On Me, before commending this “beautiful festival” and thanking the organisers for making it happen. Nearly 3.5k tune in at one point!
After cheers-ing her glass of white wine toward the screen, we’re treated to Barnett’s glorious rendition of You Am I’s Heavy Heart, which features lyrics that really resonate right now: “Been watching so much TV…” Just like every song seems to be written for you when you’re in love with someone, Barnett points out that at the moment – in these uncertain times – every song seems to feel relevant as well. Her choice of closer, Everything Is Free by Gillian Welch, is poignant AF: “Or I can get a straight job/ I’ve done it before/ I never minded working hard/ It’s who I’m working for.”
Sarah Blasko appears in radiant closeup, seated at the piano and wearing a pretty pink floral dressing gown. She launches straight into We Won’t Run – that voice; Blasko would sound sublime through the shittest of speakers: “We won’t fear, we can fight, all that we can bring to life/ There is far to go now, let’s not waste a minute more… Of our lives.” There’s a beautiful fragility in her vocal tone, but her pitch never wavers from perfect. “Oh, hello to my Pilates teacher!” Blasko chuckles, reading one of the comments as it scrolls by. Blasko’s cover of what she describes as “a really amazing love song,” This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads, acts as tuning rod for our isolated souls. Truly sublime stuff.
Ryan Downey sits cross-legged on a high stool, wearing eye-catching aqua trousers, a red-and-black knitted jumper, and matching red socks. Four days into the making of his new record (which Downey describes as a bit more “high-energy” than his previous releases) COVID-19 happened so the pause button was pressed, but we score a preview thanks to his inclusion of Bobby (or could it be Bobbie?) from said future album.
But it’s his cover of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas, which Downey sings in French, that makes me cry so much that the depletion in salt levels gives me a cramp. “Best thing about isolation is: Happy Hour is any hour,” Downey concludes, before leaving us with a splendiferous cover of Yazoo’s Only You. This monsieur looks as debonair as a young Bryan Ferry and possesses a voice to match. Has anyone seen that stash of smelling salts?
What a set-up! Early arrivals to Marlon Williams’ Insta Live are greeted by a fireplace – it’s lit – and a barrage of heart emojis flutter up the side of the screen before the artist himself has even appeared. Williams sings us some songs in Māori and, as one commenter observes, he channels Elvis at times. Viewer numbers hover around the 2,000 mark and at one point we get a thrill to see those Tongan kweens Vika and Linda Bull offering a thumbs-ups via comment.
There’s a crossfade to a second camera angle, which Williams jokes is “a bit of a pro set-up”, when he’s joined by his current housemate Tom to perform Hoiho, a song about the yellow-eyed penguin that’s native to New Zealand. Williams then produces an Omnichord to perform his final song, which is sadly cut off midway through. But what a pleasure it’s been to be serenaded in our homes by this deadset legend with the golden pipes.