Kate Miller-Heidke’s national orchestral tour is a polished package. The tour (which includes Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra) features Miller-Heidke’s guitarist husband Keir Nuttall, classy orchestral arrangements, a slick sound and lighting team and visuals by video artist Amy Gebhardt.
The WA Symphony Orchestra was the first to sign up for a show with the classically trained opera turned indie pop singer after her Helpmann Award-winning orchestral debut with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra last year. WASO has sizable experience in the crossover genre from collaborations with the likes of The Whitlams, Katie Noonan, Tim Minchin, Chick Corea and many others over the decades. Under conductor Benjamin Northey the components came together seamlessly with the versatile Miller-Heidke at the epicentre, part pop princess and part operatic diva.
The concert attracted a sold-out audience of fans to the Perth Concert hall and Miller-Heidke walked on stage to rapturous applause. The opening number Bliss was unsettled – a rushed beginning and balance issues between orchestra and an overly amplified soloist – but as the orchestra melted from pizzicato to lush chords and Gebhardt’s cloud images floated by Miller-Heidke’s voice softened into ethereal shades.
Benjamin Northey ran a tight ship steering a sympathetic orchestra. The songlist spanned the breadth of Miller-Heidke’s output and her theatrical writing style was enhanced further by the orchestral accompaniment. In O Vertigo the bird-like coloratura vocal line was echoed joyfully by the flute while the strings and percussion rocked along with Nuttall on guitar. Mama, arranged by Northey, had echoes of Queen with vocal screams, heavy rock drumming and dense string backing. In contrast the acoustic version of Caught in the Crowd had a folk narrative style that brought to mind The Waifs. The lilting arrangement of In The Dark was particularly effective with a brass chorale creating a moody lullaby.
Two songs from The Rabbits, an opera written in collaboration with Iain Grandage, revealed the immaculate vocal technique underpinning Miller-Heidke’s spinto soprano with feather-light scale passages, an earthy low range, steely top notes and a wide vibrato. The arrangement of Where was particularly stunning with pastoral woodwind, strings and moments of cinematic vastness.
Gebhardt’s videography included slow motion images of nude bodies and Andalusian horses, evocations of beauty, power, gentleness and freedom that worked particularly well with more spacious numbers like Bliss and Last Day on Earth.
Miller-Heidke’s irreverent sense of humour, expressed musically in songs like You Underestimated Me, Dude and Are you F*cking Kidding Me manifested onstage in banter with the orchestra – who apparently party harder than rock n roll artists – and droll stories about touring and family life (their son Ernie was described as their latest release arriving ten months ago). Miller-Heidke’s wit will be put to the test later in the year with the debut of her first musical Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical.
Nuttall delivered several generous guitar solos, including an extended improvisation in Johannes Luebber’s jazz-inflected arrangement of Words revealing impressive guitar chops. Jazz licks morphed into heavy rock grooves and even flamenco theatrics, laden with effects from the mixing desk. In fact the sound engineers were busy all night adding often overt effects to both the vocal and guitar parts.
It was a night richly laden with artistry and entertainment. Miller-Heidke can add another feather to the proverbial cap, although she would probably prefer a flamboyant headdress.
This article first published in Limelight magazine 2017.