Live Review: John Butler Trio w/ Missy Higgins & The Waifs @ Riverstage, Brisbane
The air was humid, the mercury had risen, and our backs were dripping. It was a true blue Aussie summer’s eve, and what better way to spend it, than basking in the glory of some of the most Aussie acts that we have to offer. John Butler Trio, Missy Higgins and The Waifs shared the stage for one night only in a fair dinkum, all Aussie night. Strewth!
Coming together with open arms, The Waifs welcomed us into their musical family. With a career spanning over two decades, the fans that squealed them onto stage consisted of some aged vocal chords, but also a lot of fresh faced fans who must’ve only been seeing these guys for the first time because holy gosh fangirl levels were off the charts. The Stevie Nicks-esque vocals of Vikki Thorn, combined with the bearded assassin Josh Cunningham and Thon’s sister Donna Simpson, the three collaborate on a folk, verging on country rock sound that is as catchy as it is danceable.
The ensemble build a wall of music, with a variety of instruments up the wahzoo, spliced together with a three part harmony that will set your soul into happy mode from the get go. Their upbeat numbers are an infectious start to any evening, with smiles slapped on almost every dial that filled the Riverstage. The power filled the amphitheatre and mood setters turned the dials to party, with fast tempoed numbers to dig a groove into your hips. With a chemistry that flows tangibly between the band, they are not only able to stay so tightly together, but the family banter and good times they were so clearly having were an absolute treat to watch.
Don’t you just miss 2004? The early 2000’s produced some great gems in the music world, and just as we finished singing Hillary Duff classic hit This Is What Dreams Are Made Of, pretty much everyone’s playlist contained at least one cheeky Missy Higgins songs. As far as catchy pop ballads go, Missy is the queen, and having her come back to Brisbane for the first time in what seems like donkey’s years, it’s hard to believe we’ve forgotten how beautifully this woman strings together easy listening vibes and some brutally honest brilliance in her lyrics and musicianship.
Wedged in between two rather upbeat acts, Missy brought it back a notch, layering some powerful ballads that may or may not have brought tears to eyes. “We can have tears at the same time as we have laughter” and this beauty from sadness is a theme through her songwriting. Beauty certainly came through by way of her latest penned single Oh Canada. Written from the perspective of the father of Aylan Kurdi, the refugee whose washed up on a Turkish beach last year, the song delivered a delicately honest call to action.
Covering most of her collective work, we were taken through a journey from her early tunes to her latest offerings. Peachy, 10 Years and Steer really set nostalgia into overdrive, but being part of a collective karaoke session as the five thousand odd people squashed into the amphitheatre belted our Scar as if was still at the top of the ARIA Charts.
Despite giving birth to a whole new person, and maybe getting along in her years of life, ‘she still got it’ was certainly one of the main thoughts to cross our minds. The deep set power that settles in Higgins’ vocals chords just cannot be denied. As note after note is belted to the back of the amphitheatre, this isn’t a case of just a nostalgia act, Higgins still possesses every ounce of talent that made us fall in love with the commanding songstress all those years ago.
One became three, as keyboard was replaced with twelve-string guitar and soaring ballads were replaced with chordal masterpieces. Words just don’t seem to describe the need for one to witness John Butler Trio perform live. There’s something so uniting about their presence, their love and their music that fill you with a new appreciation for life and song. From their carpe diem mantra, to their soul fuelling musicianship, there is something about their awe inspiring stage presence that really sets them apart from other artists. This lust for living is embedded within each of their tracks, and whether it’s jaunty, dance numbers or powerful guitar solos, the trio have a mastery of their class that place them in a league of their own.
For any musician, John Butler’s instrumental Ocean is something that you’ve been swept away by, and baring witness to the masterpiece appears at most guitarist’s bucket list. But even if you are a stranger to the steel string, even if you have no idea what a fretboard is, you still need to find yourself in front of Butler as he plays his twelve-string instrumental. A powerful, emotionally driven piece is Butler’s way of talking without words. “This says everything I can’t say,” he admits before diving into the eleven minute long journey, taking you on a rollercoaster that you never want to get off.
Ticking off every other box for fans, Better Than, Only One and bulk hit list tracks came swinging from the stage, even including a cheeky little Hoe Down in the opening of the set. A back and forth of musicianship, and a cheeky banjo thrown in (because what set isn’t complete without a banjo?), the set list was a fast paced ride with no moment to take a breath. It was fast, it was loud and my word was it enthralling.
Again, you’ve got to admire the groups ability to stay in sync with each other. With the amount of solos, improv sections and all around face paced controlled chaos, it’s hard to believe it doesn’t end up in shambles with strings broken and someone on the floor crying. This is how I imagine how anyone else who attempted to do what they do would end up. But the talent trapped in their hands and soul just show how they are truly masters of their craft.
The night under the stars had definite Bluesfest vibe floating through the air. A one night only, ‘little brother’ of the Easter music festival had all the feel good family moments that makes festivals great, but had the added bonus of only being one night and we could all go home sleep in our beds after. With little kids scattered all through the amphitheatre, families were certainly the main feature in the crowd. A lot of young whipper-snappers definitely popped their concert cherry, and with the mother lovers of John Butler Trio, Missy Higgins and The Waifs, you probably couldn’t have picked a better lineup (don’t worry, they were gentle). One couldn’t help but be satisfied with the state of Australian music as we parted from those gates. We have something good going here in Aus. Something real good.