Missy Higgins knew what she was up against.
Her own opening act, Joshua Radin, nearly turned the estrogen-oozing audience into a Girls Gone Wild set by wooing them with only his voice and guitar as he walked into the middle of the throng to perform his set closer, the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Boulder favorite Ray LaMontagne, the bearded darling of critics and leader of today's folk-rock flock, was playing just across the street at a larger venue on the University of Colorado campus.
Then there was Higgins herself, fighting off a wicked cold and dealing with the nagging, nasty (and sometimes downright yucky) symptoms associated with it. “I’m not sure what concert I’d go to,” she even admitted.
So what’s a poor Aussie songbird to do? No worries, mate.
Higgins wowed the near-capacity crowd at the Fox Theatre on October 27, 2008, with her earthy songs, peppy personality and even that cute, runny nose that required a supply of tissues and a self-deprecating attitude.
“It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll, is it?” Higgins asked while seated at the piano, turning her back on the audience to perform an unpleasant task. “That was amazing,” she said after discreetly clearing her nasal passages. “My best song yet.”
It didn’t seem to matter to the spellbound audience, which settled down for a 90-minute set dominated by numbers from Higgins’ most recent release, On A Clear Night.
Higgins shifted just as adroitly between ballads and rockers as she did the piano and acoustic guitar, going solo for the first two songs (“Blind Winter” and “Don’t Ever”) before bringing out her band that included Two Men With Hats, Ben Edgar on guitar, and Terepai Richmond on drums, and one without, Dave Symes on bass.
And after recalling her joyful experience at this summer’s Folks Festival in nearby Lyons, and the fact she was on the bill with the Waifs, one of her favorite Australian groups from “back in my day, whenever my day was,” the engaging performer brought back Radin for a cover of Patty Griffin’s “Long Ride Home,” saying, “It’s so much fun singing other people’s songs.”
Her deft piano-playing touch soon followed on “Where I Stood,” the hit single with its video currently in rotation on VH1. Coming only 40 minutes into the show, it allowed plenty of time for the concert to build toward a climax as she utilized her big voice on “Warm Whispers” and the sing-along/clap-along “Peachy.”
The Wonder from Down Under, wearing a print dress over dark jeans, along with comfy deck shoes, aimed to please on a number of levels.
She displayed her family values, saying this was a special occasion that “feels like home,” since her “two aunties” were in the crowd. Granting a special request received over dinner, Higgins performed “Forgive Me,” one of two songs not on the set list (right).
The eco-friendly musician, whose tour is sponsored by Clif GreenNotes mentioned her “big, disgusting, yellow tour bus” runs on carbon-reducing biodiesel.
And there was the adept storyteller, taking time to introduce several of her songs with whimsical tales that kept the crowd entertained and enraptured:
• “Angela” was inspired by a still photo of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh from Gone With The Wind. Though Higgins admitted she had never seen the movie, she said the photo revealed the characters knew “(Scarlett O'Hara) was the one wearing the pants” in that relationship.
• Her cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” will be on a 2009 companion compilation CD to Revolutions In Sound, which celebrates Warner Bros. Records’ 50th anniversary (“Is it the 50th or 30th?” Higgins wondered out loud). “That ’80s song has some really cheesy synth in it,” she said. “We’ve gone through so many versions. We’ve tried everything. Funk, rock, disco. We finally decided to play it like we play all my other songs.”
• Before jumping into “Scar,” where a very animated Higgins was at her finger-snapping best on the piano, she played a few notes from the first song she ever wrote, when she was in Grade 5, about a pig stolen by one of the convicts that had been exported to Australia. “Luckily, I’ve progressed slightly since then.”
• “Run So Fast,” a ballad on which she was accompanied by Edgar’s slide guitar, was written for an upcoming movie The Post Grad Survival Guide, but apparently didn’t make the cut, leading Higgins to discuss her first opportunity to write a song for a film, Shrek 2. She even granted a request to play a line from the tune with “the cheesiest lyrics you could imagine,” sweetly singing “this is a fairy-tale love.”
Thankfully, she said, that song didn’t make the grade (or the soundtrack either). “It could have made me a star for all the wrong reasons. … Now I’m clawing my way to the top.”
It appears Miss Missy won’t need to make so much as a scratch to get where she wants to go. Now living in Los Angeles, the 25-year-old considers herself “an American resident,” but might be ready to take the world by storm. Even if that means just going back home.
She’s interrupting her tour to appear in her first feature film, Bran Nue Dae a coming-of-age musical set in Australia with a cast that includes Academy Award-winning actor Geoffrey Rush.
Good fortune appears to be on her side. “You have to be able to look after yourself. You gotta take the steering wheel,” the lucky charmer said before launching into the inspirational finale, “Steer.”
Any thoughts of LaMontagne’s beard, Radin’s upstaging love-in or Higgins’ drippy nostrils were long gone by then. Well, at least two out of the three.
After pointing out that she no longer does encores because it seems "dishonest," Higgins said, “Thanks for coming here instead of Ray LaMontagne’s show,” before promising to give each concertgoer “$5 on your way out.”
Higgins can breathe easy again, knowing no one took her up on her offer.
• Here’s a YouTube clip of Missing Higgins performing “Run So Fast” at the Fox Theatre concert.
• Here’s the official video of Missy Higgins’ “Where I Stood” from Warner Bros. Records