Concert date: 03/12/2008
Run date: 03/20/2008
Though she’s already hit superstar status in her native Australia, singer-songwriter Missy Higgins appeared believably wide-eyed about playing a sold out club date at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. “We’ve been fantasizing about this show on the bus for weeks,” the 23-year-old gushed to the rapt crowd at the start, as if she had simply lucked out to land a date at the small yet gorgeous downtown venue. “I can’t believe it’s finally here.”
Leaving aside her rapidly rising hype meter – her songs have recently popped up on both “Smallville” and “Grey’s Anatomy” – the young and ridiculously pretty Higgins is hardly full of herself. Her running banter throughout the night was witty, off-the-cuff, and self-deprecating. When one of the many crush-afflicted attendees shouted out “You’re beautiful” between songs, prompting both laughter and seconding applause, Higgins merely stepped to the mic and performed an impromptu – and dead-on -- James Blunt impression.
You get the point. She’s hopelessly likeable.
But all of this would be easy to dismiss if Higgins were just another post-Lilith coffeehouse wannabe, caught up in her own preciousness.
On the contrary, Higgins is a super-serious pop songwriting craftswoman, schooled on Split Enz and Crowded House from her earliest days in Oz. Her minor-key melodies, left-turn chord changes – even her batty running commentaries – recall her hero Neil Finn, who fittingly guest-starred on two songs on her recently U.S.-released, Mitchell Froom-produced second LP, On a Clear Night.
The slight, energetic Higgins can also belt it out like a rock star. Certain singers – paging Neil Finn again – have a way of cutting through a live mix without any conspicuous effort. Higgins is no different, albeit with a few added quirks, chief among them her very thick and recognizable accent, which many vocalists obscure while singing. Not Missy.
Higgins’ able five-piece band played sparsely, adding vibe and atmosphere to the artist’s mostly mid-tempo, slightly swinging arrangements. Highlights of the set, however, were more driving selections such as “Going North,” which featured an angelic a cappella bridge and a sped-up outro, and the post-breakup kiss-off “Peachy,” which Higgins called “the closest thing to a rock song that I have.” Her segues from guitar to keys also nicely broke up the set. In particular, her determined performance of new album opener “Where I Stood” seemed to double the room’s crush quotient.
Higgins closed the show by explaining with little pretense that she does not believe in encores. She explained that coyly walking off stage and wishing everyone a good night, when both artist and audience know full well that there are two or three songs left to be played, “always makes me feel like a bit of a dickhead, ya know?” Proceeding with a few well-known numbers that would have been in the encore, she helpfully offered that one could pretend if one wished that she had just left the stage and returned triumphantly for more.
The energy dipped in one or two spots during Higgins’ Bowery Ballroom performance, but Higgins’ winsome stage presence and preternaturally deep batch of strong, beautiful-sad pop tunes won the night.
This is How It Goes
Where I Stood
Any Day Now
100 Round the Bends