On March 24th, Alice Merton and Sion Hill took Scala by storm. London was the 8th stop on her first headlining tour MINT supporting her debut album of the same name, released back in January. The multilevel venue was full of people by the time opener Sion Hill stepped onto the stage. The audience was pressed against the stage barrier excitedly, one woman even traveling from Kent to specifically see Sion Hill, otherwise known as Nathan Johnston.
Fans of his were scattered around the venue, dancing to the music and suggesting songs. “Beaches!” one shouted part way through the set, and Sion Hill took it in stride. “Beaches?” he replied. “Yeah, I’ll play Beaches. Who here knows Beaches?” A few cheers in response, and he was off, playing the song with all his might.
Sion Hill took on the stage solo with grace and confidence. Recorded, his music is full of production, which a specific emphasis on percussion, layered vocals and keyboard. Live, it was just a man, his voice, and his guitar creating a beat with well timed guitar strums. At one point he played what he jokingly described as an “Irish Hip Hop Song” consisting of both sung vocals and ‘sing rap’ in a manner similar to Ed Sheeran. He played for almost 30 minutes and then disappeared out the stage door with a wave and the venue descended into darkness.
A half hour later, fog started swirling over the drum set. The lights dimmed to a murky forest green, and three men stepped onto stage – keyboard, drums, electric guitar. After an instrumental intro, the stage door opened, and Alice Merton strutted onto stage like an angel, most notably donning black and white boots and a mint colored floating cape with “MINT” printed in black and white on the back. While her trio kept playing, she marched over to every one of them in turn, gathering energy from them and incorporating them into her actions in a way that continued through her entire performance. When it was time, she marched over to the microphone stand and began to sing “They’ve got fire / Well I’ve got lightning bolts…” as the lights lifted from their deep green to a bright and vibrant minty color.
As lavender and red was peppered in with the green, Alice Merton treated the London crowd to a wholly unique show. After the third song, she asked the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to her father as a belated birthday gift. “He’s always saying he values experiences so I think having London sing to him for his birthday is a pretty good experience. His name’s Oliver.” I was fortunate enough to be standing next to Oliver in this moment and the smile he had one his face was blinding.
Her fourth and fifth songs were also special moments, complete with an introduction for each unreleased track. The first one, “Keeps Me Awake,” was an old favorite for those who had previously seen her live. She told the crowd it was a song that she wasn’t ready to add to the album, but “if you’ve seen us before, you’ll know this one.” Next came “Make You Mine,” a song that she told her producer ‘made her want to jump’ when she initially wrote it and asked the audience to join her in her mission. Indeed, after the chorus, she jumped up and down, running all around the stage during the instrumental and kept time with those in front of her doing the same.
This was the energy Alice kept for the majority of the show: running around, jumping up and down, interacting with her band members, and holding eye contact with them even when she wasn’t in their immediate vicinity. In contrast, she let the time between songs be true pauses where she spoke to the crowd. She told stories, gave context, added in a bit of self deprecating humor and offered up imitations of her parents from time to time as well. Like so many of my favorite concerts (and this is certainly being added to the list), it felt like a full blown, all systems go performance mixed with a low key collage gig. She chatted like she wasn’t the main name on a European tour, yet brought the energy of both an arena show and of her recorded songs. The more she stomped around, the more her mint green cape billowed with her movements, making it seem as though she was actually floating as she danced to and from the mic stand.
She allowed the energy to change as she approached her eighth song, “Honeymoon Heartbreak.” Here, she started to get personal, opening up on her feelings about the album reception and the songs that it contained. “Who here has listened to the album?” she started off. Cheers ensued. Then: a reverent “That’s amazing.” She continued by talking about how even though MINT isn’t a ballad album, the next song, “Honeymoon Heartbreak,” was, and more importantly was a song that was personal to her. Also personal to her was the song following: “2 Kids.” “I don’t know how many of you know my story…” she began in her introduction, telling one of the stories told in her docuseries. “Big labels didn’t really want me, or they wanted to change my sound,” and so when she met Paul in university and moved to a one room apartment in Berlin with him where they lived in bunk beds and put up with a smelly bathroom in order to create a record label together. He was, according to Alice, one of the first people to really believe in her and her sound, and so she wrote a song about him. Simple as that.
In a similar way to “Honeymoon Heartbreak,” her caring shone through in the way her energy changed on stage. On the record, “2 Kids” carries the same production as its counterparts, though the sound itself is a bit darker. Yet instead of starting off with the percussion and low guitar notes, she played the first verse solo on a keyboard, allowing the pressed keys and her voice to hold the emotion she felt when looking back at their experience. At the end of her toned down rendition, she brought back in the whole band and started the song again from the beginning.
While the uptick in energy continued through the rest of the set, she kept the monologues personal, the stories interesting throughout, and the playful sass alive. Before “Homesick,” she referenced her breakout single “No Roots,” describing “Homesick” as the follow-up song with the same message. According to her song intro (that I recorded, so I promise this one’s word for word), people kept asking her, “‘Where’s your home’? And I was like, weeellll, I kinda wrote a song about that, soooo, um, you might wanna listen back to the song. And I realized, you know what, I think I need to write a part two, I think I need to make it even more obvious? And so this song came about and it’s where I realized I never get homesick.”
Two songs later, she sung the previously mentioned “No Roots.” When the crowd expressed disappointment that this was her second to last song, she responded with, “That’s very sweet London. But, uh, these tours kind of work the way that you play songs and then you kind of have to pack up and go to another city.” This was her highest charted song, the song she made her American late night television debut with, and it was most certainly the song that the crowd sang the loudest.
Yet my favorite moment by far was one of the last of the night. Immediately after “No Roots,” Alice stepped up to the microphone, said, “I need a piece of gum,” and ran offstage to the amusement and confusion of both the crowd and her bandmates, with the latter glancing to each other with eyes wide and slight smiles on their faces.
She returned not a minute later, chewing her chosen piece of gum. Once again she impersonated her mom (“Alice don’t chew gum in front of 700 people, it’s really rude!” ), and then opened up even further.
“Did anyone ever ask themselves why I called this album MINT? Like I know in England people are like, ‘Aw it’s gonna be mint!’ And I did not name my album after that because I thought my album was gonna be great. Um… sometimes I get really nervous and overwhelmed because there’s so many of you and it’s so cool that you guys are listening to this music. So, the only thing that calms me is gum – well, mint gum. Or anything with mint: mint leaves, mint tea, so I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to call this album MINT, cause it helps me. I don’t do drugs, so this is my drug.”
Ensue cheering. As someone who was chewing mint gum right then as a way to combat anxiety, I identified with the sentiment. One of the things that makes MINT and the resulting tour so amazing are these honest truths woven into the lyrics of the album. Whether it’s “Never went on a field-trip / Scared I’d lose my mother and father” on “Homesick” or “When the storms came and the fear got real / You stood by me” on “2 Kids,” the song lyrics felt as honest as the stories she told that introduced them.
And when she followed up her tale with another one to introduce her last non-encore song, the truth in it was even more apparent. To stand on a stage, no matter how big the venue, and tell the audience about a friend who ignored you and then tried to reverse once you started gaining fame takes courage and a vulnerability most people don’t possess. While the title MINT might make you think of a sharp flavor or an unattached cold personality, the album contains a feeling just the opposite. And when Alice Merton ended her set, the audience cheered hard and loud and long for an encore, just to get that feeling back. When she returned, she came back to the stage ready to play “Why So Serious,” a song dedicated to combating the weight of the world and taking advantage of whatever is occuring in the present. “Why So Serious” was the perfect way to end to show and send the audience back out into the real world, humming along to a tune long since ended.
If you’re in Europe there’s still time to see her live!
Mar 25 – Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – Rockhal
Mar 27 – Utrecht, Netherlands – Tivoli
Mar 28 – Brussels, Belgium – Le Botanique
Mar 29 – Dortmund, Germany – FZW
Mar 31 – Cottbus, Germany – Gladhouse
Apr 1 – Poznan, Poland – Blue Note
Apr 2 – Warsaw, Poland – Proxima
And if you’re in the United States, she’s touring there too – see the dates here.