Missy Higgins @ Seymour Centre, Sydney (8/06/12)
Tonight is the first of three sold-out shows at the York Theatre inside Sydney’s Seymour Centre, and just the fourth date of a comeback tour five years in the making. It’s a characteristically weird room to be in as a man in his early twenties on a Friday night in the middle of the City. Families. People holding hands. Gone are the converse hi-tops and vests that marked the Missy Higgins of old – tonight she’s sporting a sparkly green dress, flattering in all of the right ways. She’s remarkably pretty under the house lights, playfully engaging the audience in dialogue about reptiles, Christmas, grandmas.
Gone, too, are the presuppositions – for a long time, the knock on Missy Higgins essentially was that she was Missy Higgins: a wildly successful young woman who made simple songs about complex feelings in a way that was so Australian that you didn’t even need Lara Bingle to ask where the bloody hell she came from. Tonight, the tall poppies have wilted. Higgins’ heart-on-sleeve songwriting has trumped all of the jeers that music writers from five years ago had used to criticise things like her straightforward honesty, her sexuality and her ‘Strayan accent. Tonight, nobody scoffs when she sings it the way that she says it.
Opening with jaunty cut Secret, from 2007’s On A Clear Night, it’s clear that Higgins and her Nashville-based touring band are here to execute like nobody’s business. The entire set is pinpoint, nay a bum note or a false start to be seen. It’s one heavy on material from her third Australian #1 album, The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle, its songs comprising roughly half of her seventy-five minute set. Certainly, some of them are still being broken in – early number Set Me On Fire doesn’t exactly do as its title intends and Hello Hello lacks a little immediacy – but the point stands that Higgins has constructed a wonderful band. They’re built to do beautiful as well as they do bombastic, to switch seamlessly from swagger to swoon without giving so much as a moment’s notice.
When they hit it right, as they do on the gorgeous choral ballad Everyone’s Waiting or the harmony-laden Watering Hole, the new songs stand right up to be counted against the instant familiarity of signature numbers Ten Days or 100 Round The Bends. Rightly, Higgins saves most of these for the end of the evening. Peachy churns and crunches like it always should have and The Special Two is about as close to gorgeous as it gets. Somehow I’ve managed to learn the words to both of these through what must be osmosis, and thank goodness, because I would have felt really out of place when Higgins called on the crowd during the latter song.
Last are her two biggest singles, Scar, which elicits a standing ovation before it even begins, and Steer, which might be my favourite Missy song if only because she does such a convincing job of singing ‘you fucked it up’ before the second chorus – it’s a lovely, gritty characteristic of an otherwise shiny nugget of pure pop. Higgins is highly anecdotal through the entire evening, and the crowd reciprocated in kind as it ends: a second and third standing round of applause a fitting farewell.