Great Southern Nights – Land Of 1000 Gigs, announced last week by the NSW government’s marketing arm and ARIA, is the local industry’s attempt to rekindle interest in and recreate the spectre of a country where music used to be something we went out to as a matter of course.
Soon we won’t need Wind Back Wednesday’s forays into gigs past to fill the gaping hole where live music once lived. Soon, but not yet.
One of the Great Southern Nights headline acts who will perform full gigs in smaller venues across Sydney and NSW in November is Missy Higgins. Now one of the staples of the local scene, if not one of the queenpins, when we catch her in this 2012 show she was just stepping into her new status, and the demands that come with it.
State Theatre, November 20
It’s taken time, maybe longer than anyone around her figured on, but Missy Higgins finally looks comfortable. Comfortable with her fame and our expectations of her. Comfortable with her talent and her expectations of it. Comfortable with herself.
In retrospect it shouldn’t have been too surprising given that fame came early and quickly and fiercely and that despite the care taken of her and around her, nothing is more disorientating than your still developing life suddenly becoming important to and judged by thousands of others.
While Higgins’ new album devotes a little more time than some of us might think necessary to her extended writer’s block, in concert those songs look more like celebrations of rediscovering why writing and performing mattered so much in the first place.
Hello Hello began with more swing than the recorded version and was buoyed by strong backing vocals from this tour’s (and this album’s) extra herbs and spices, singer/songwriter/bassist Butterfly Boucher. Set Me On Fire’s chorus may feel like it comes out of nowhere but it’s a grab for the light that punches through in the hands of this band. And Unashamed Desire, which came after an impressive solo spot by Boucher, had a fair degree of thump from behind and a real energy up front.
There were good ideas scattered through, such as the gospel feel of Watering Hole in its stripped down to basics (hand percussion, harmonica and vocals) arrangement and if these ideas also showed up the more pedestrian nature of older songs such as Ten Days, then they also pointed out why sometimes – such as with Don’t Ever – simplicity was always part of the appeal.
(While we’re talking older songs, why hadn’t I noticed before how well Warm Whispers could work as a theme song for a yet to come Crawford Production TV drama?)
I can't say that I walked away from this show as convinced of Higgins’ brilliance as the devoted audience who were itching for the standing ovation from, oh, maybe the second song in. But I did believe she isn’t afraid of living up to those expectations.
For more information about the gigs and performers participating in Great Southern Nights go to greatsouthernnights.com.au