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Live Review: Missy Higgins w/ Queensland Symphony Orchestra & Ben Abraham @ Brisbane Convention Centre


A contrasting blend of upper-class etiquette and laid-back excitement made up the middle-age dominant audience at Brisbane Convention Centre last Friday night. Seeing Missy Higgins in the flesh is a treat in itself, but bearing witness to one of the shows in her exclusive orchestral concert series – this time with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – was as good as it got for any Aussie folk junkie.

Kicking off the night was Melbourne Indie popster Ben Abraham who was a cross between Cat Stevens and the headliner herself. As he regaled the audience with 40 minutes of compelling love and lost ballads, switching between acoustic guitar and keys, it was clear why he’s developed a reputation as a cinematic storyteller.

Initially the crowd seemed unsure of Abraham’s awkward, self-deprecating humour but by the end of the set, the entire Concert Hall was laughing like old friends as he joked about still living with his parents (“They just own the house, I’m mostly independent”), supporting Higgins as an unknown artist (“You’re probably googling me wondering who is he”), and his vast array of merchandise on sale (“I’ve got tea towels so you can guess my demographic”).

The black-attired Queensland Symphony Orchestra made their way to the stage during intermission with a calm disposition, occupied with a last minute tuning of their instruments. Higgins’ band soon joined them while the anticipation in the audience built.

As the lights dimmed, a burst of applause broke out for conductor Nicholas Buc and quickly doubled as the goddess of Aussie pop finally strolled on stage in a long, flowing black skirt and loose baby pink top. The intensity of the moment was broken by a tipsy-happy fan yelling, “I love you Missy!” to which she responded with a comical “Thanks, mate!”

It seemed like a random choice to begin with Katie from debut album ‘The Sound of White’, but as the 4-piece band and orchestra rose together in a chill-inducing tidal wave, it was an undeniable stunner.

Higgins warmly greeted the crowd in her usual down-to-earth manner, expressing her absolute pleasure in taking her music to the next level with the QSO. She also announced the show’s setlist would comprise of tunes from all four albums, which felt like a lucky dip of surprises to the enamoured audience.

To break up the show, Higgins interspersed several ‘band only’ numbers, the first of which was heartbreaking serenade Ten Days, showcasing her trademark Aussie lilt. QSO made a quick return during The Drones’ Shark Fin Soup where their dark overtones and thunderous climax – complete with mallet sticks and horn flourishes, made the fear of being eaten alive almost palpable in the moment. As the instrumentation settled into a sombre cadence the Melbourne songstress started to grin. “It’s so nice having my songs reimagined! It makes me want to do this,” she said, raising her arms in a goofy celebratory muscle pose.

In an unexpected turn, Higgins admitted her fondness for post-apocalyptic stories since having her child. “But the possibility of a war ravaged future turned fiction to non-fiction,” she said. “Writing about it was a way to deal with the terror.” She continued by introducing a new piece she’d written within the last six months, only to describe the wrong song. After a few comical attempts to remember how it began, Higgins finally transfixed the crowd with a heartsick tale of two lovers looking up at a red moon from different sides of the world. Ambient, synthy keys replaced the orchestra, making the overall tone unearthly and mysterious.

Before busting out the ukulele for sweet lullaby Song For Sammy, the contemporary troubadour explained how she came across this tune after struggling to get her baby boy to sleep, triggering a woman in the audience to yell out, ‘Welcome to motherhood!” This was followed by Ben Abraham’s triumphant return as the two friends performed Higgin’s acoustic unreleased track Run So Fast, which showed-off their mellifluous harmonies to the awestruck crowd.

As one would expect, a lot of hits were included into the mix. During Everybody’s Waiting, choir-like BVs from the band joined QSO in supporting Higgin’s anguished vocals; The Special Two brought on goosebumps as the songstress gave it everything she had when she unleashed her powerful belt; and with the absence of the Orchestra, latest single Oh Canada emanated a haunting stillness throughout the room as everyone reflected on the real-life story of the Syrian boy who drowned while fleeing his country.

Spirits were raised back up with ubiquitous hit Scar, Higgins urging people to sing along and dance, dance, dance, with only partial success as the majority were content to just watch the gal do her thing. Upbeat vibes continued with a fun and quirky rendition of Perry Keyes’ NYE.

Higgins closed the night with exhilarating anthem Steer, which started with a sweet, celestial intro from QSO before transitioning into the familiar guitar hook we all know and love. The crowd sang along, soaking up every second and when the last note rang out, people started rising from their seats in a standing ovation. Whoever said you couldn’t embrace your true-blue Aussie side and deliver an elegant, class act performance clearly never met Missy Higgins!

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Photos by Dana Hope