Picture: Sara Hannagan

Review: Kate Miller-Heidke at J Shed, Fremantle, 4 March 2016

Full of surprises.

Kate Miller-Heidke could easily have been a vocally spectacular but not-so-unique artist.

But thanks to her razor-sharp wit and sincerity combined with a willingness to take risks and surprise listeners, she’s never been in danger of becoming middle-of-the-road. Her performance at J Shed on Friday night was proof of that.

This was the second instalment of J Shed’s Sunset Sounds concert series and organisers appeared to have ironed out a few teething problems.

The sound quality was better, and a black stage backdrop prevented any cheeky passers-by dropping in to chat to the artists onstage.

Local alternative soul musician Morgan Bain entertained the crowd early and Queensland singer-songwriter Ayla played sweet acoustic tunes, with a set that included her Like a Version cover of Hunters & Collectors’ Throw Your Arms Around Me. 

Sparkling in a red, sequined dress and golden headpiece, a pregnant Miller-Heidke launched straight into the stunningly simple love song Space They Cannot Touch, from 2004 EP Telegram.

Accompanied by husband and guitarist Keir Nuttall, Miller-Heidke’s voice carried beautifully above the hum of Fremantle’s nightlife.

The Brisbane singer-songwriter is known for her operatically trained voice, and she didn’t disappoint in that department.

The Brisbane singer-songwriter is known for her operatically trained voice, and she didn’t disappoint in that department.

O Vertigo was a good warm-up for what was to come, showcasing Miller-Heidke’s vocal acrobatics on the track she jokingly described as “somewhere between innovative and surprising, and the most irritating thing you’ve ever heard”. 

Nuttall forgot what he was doing partway through the song, forcing a restart, but the pair managed to create such hilarity that it might as well have been part of the show.

The set mixed old and new material, plus requests like the ever-popular Are You F*cking Kidding Me – otherwise known as ‘the Facebook song’.

A new and as-yet-unreleased song we’re going to call Get Off Your F*cking Phone was in the same vein and had the crowd in stitches.

You’ve Underestimated Me Dude, another newie, was a menacing tune directed at someone who has clearly crossed her.

In true Miller-Heidke style, the song features unexpected operatic screams and an evil laugh, while a freight train roaring past added a surprisingly suitable accompaniment.

Miller-Heidke showed a more serious side with songs like Sarah, about a young girl who went missing at a music festival, along with mainstream hits Last Day on Earth and Caught in the Crowd.

Nuttall had his own moments of glory throughout the show, particularly on Words, with an epic guitar-looping extravaganza that saw him plucking, strumming and tapping several guitars while adding layer upon layer to his self-made soundscape.

Here’s the thing about great performers. It’s not about how many guitar-slaying, drumstick-twirling musicians surround them, or the elaborate lighting rig that illuminates them as they slide across the stage on their knees.

Great performers do a lot with a little, forgoing the layers of fanfare and self-congratulation to simply connect with people.

There are a handful of Australian artists in this category. 

Kate Miller-Heidke is one.

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