@ The Playhouse, Thursday June 14
Butterfly Boucher opened, bouncing on stage like a pony. It was a shock, despite her leather boots and fashionably short hair, when Butterfly stomped on a pedal and the entire sold-out Playhouse shook with an overproduced backing beat. Similarly wrong-footed was the sound-fellow, who took that song and most of the second to get vocals and guitar in line with the electro-ruckus – just in time for her band to join her, and win over Missy’s curiously teen-free audience with music that would have suited the Espy more than a seated Globe-wannabe. She got by on heart, and some excellent song-writing; Warning Bell left the audience in a stunned hush before it gathered wits to applaud.
Upbeat and dressed-down Missy Higgins joined Boucher for an adorable double-act, four hands together on one synth, and it looked like they were genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Backstage smooches were the vibe. They co-produced Missy’s drought-breaking The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle in Nashville, where Boucher has been silently sweeping together a great big success story. It started with Grey’s Anatomy OS and so far has peaked, unarguably, at a duet recording of Changes – with Bowie, no less.
The teamwork made for a tight show. It’s easy to forget, loving local music and steeped in neophilia, that an enduring strength of radio-friendly pop is the professionalism. Halfway through a set with its fair share of tech irritations and variations from the set-list, it was unavoidably apparent that Missy and her band rarely hit a wrong note. This kind of expertise in the field of the four-chord pop song can seem excessive (or risk avoidant), and yet…
The fourth estate in her performance was her humility. She was so real that sometimes the overwhelmingly feeling was not energy or wonder but fondness. Countless times Missy brought us back from the edge of saccharine polish with a moment of humour or an unscripted comment. It didn’t sound like backtracking or playbook banter when she derided the “tens of thousands of interviews you will have read,” and when her assemblage of glowing-talent musos laughed at her for starting the wrong song, you could sense the fun and kinship they shared. Two bars later, they would lock straight into the sound.
The six-piece group invoked atmospheres that added tremendous depth to the songs. It’s a surreal experience to hear resonant, powerful performances of seemingly paper-thin teenage Top 20s like Scar or Steer. Clever instrumentation like bowed xylophone and a cellist with a shaker kept the music nerds happy, and the leading lady’s rich, controlled vocal tone was always pitched to the light and shadow of the arrangements. Missy’s theme between songs was the song-writing process: running from writing block through American house-sits, the disconnect between words and music, and experiments with unusual approaches. Set Me On Fire began as a 12-verse rap before it was tamed to the piano. Collaboration with Boucher was all over some of the new songs, particularly first single Unashamed Desire (which is infinitely better live – the Missy Gaga version on YouTube almost turned me off the concert). Not to say it isn’t Missy herself in the driving seat; she was out for something new in a sparkling short-cut evening gown, and she threw herself into the new tracks with a definite joie de vivre.
All up it was a concert of surprises. I have to recommend that you catch Missy if you ever get a chance. Regardless of where you’re coming from, I can guarantee she’ll surprise you, at least in this incarnation.