Higgins provides fitting festival finale
Final act ... Missy Higgins Photo: Lisa Kenny
As the first of several thousand punters filed into Queenscliff festival site on Friday night, the convivial atmosphere was comparable to a country fair. And late on the first of three days of diverse pop and rock music offerings, Melbourne jazz-pop troupe the Cat Empire were clearly the prime attraction.
Yet early on, it was some lesser lights that shone brightly. Melbourne five-piece Loon Lake were a peppy, harmony-driven indie-rock delight. Youthful Brisbane singer-songwriter Emma Louise demonstrated the buzz emanating from her debut EP is justified with an enthralling, at times ethereal set of guitar and electronic based pop. Hers is an enchanting voice. Similarly, the predictably hirsute Adelaide quartet the Beards – who, shockingly, sing about facial hair, had their tent heaving with a raucous set.
On Saturday the true appeal of this festival, now into its 16th year, was evident. By lunchtime, Queenscliff's streets, bars, cafes, and walkways were engulfed with live music. The town warmly embraced it; the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial. There were seemingly just as many prams as tattooed hipsters. Buskers played on every corner, pubs and cafes hosted bands. In town at The Vue Hotel, hotly-tipped Melbourne sextet the Harlots played a searing, exuberant set of guitar-rock.
On the main festival site, Australia's most-lauded indigenous act Gurrumul enthralled a huge crowd, who endured searing heat and humidity to enjoy his unique Australian voice. The 75-minute set was a festival highlight. Speaking to the diversity of the festival bill, a few hours later, Lisa Mitchell, an eclectic pop singer who sings with a pained face but a memorable tone played next and was followed, almost improbably, by Shannon Noll.
Outside, the Blues Train, a four-carriage steam train filled with musicians and fans, pottered up and down the coast. Watching a band play as you take in the picturesque track is terrific - if you like the band. If not, it's akin to being in prison: there's nowhere to retreat.
Something For Kate reminded a packed tent of its potency with a superb set Saturday night. Delivering hits Déjà vu, Monsters, Electricity and Three Dimensions combined with material from their excellent new album Leave Your Soul To Science, the veteran Melbourne rockers were the perfect antidote to any early evening fatigue.
After a set from Diesel that concluded with his radio hits Tip of My Tongue and Cry In Shame, You Am I closed the main stage with an intense and at times volatile set. After initially leaning hard on their last, self-titled album, the old rock dogs segued into a superb greatest-hits set that concluded, appropriately, with their biggest hit, Berlin Chair. It was glorious, strident stuff.
On Sunday the weather cooled slightly and another cluster of Australian acts, highlighted by Melbourne acts Missy Higgins and British India, closed out the weekend.
British India, a four-piece indie-rock act from Mentone, were tight if a little unmemorable, powering through a boisterous hour of rock.
Ms Higgins, however was more refined, bringing with her the full seven-piece group – encompassing a string section - she has transported around the country for her current, expansive national tour of theatres.
Clearly the biggest drawcard of the weekend, she began the show in something of an unhurried manner, opting to use three new tracks from her current album The Ol' Razzle Dazzle, followed by an earlier more notable track, Secret.
From there she moved evenly between hit singles and new material. Ten Days, Peachy, Where I Stood, Warm Whispers, The Special Two and her excellent single from earlier this year, Unashamed Desire were all delivered with minimum fuss.
Higgins bantered playfully with her musical partner, the Australian expat Butterfly Boucher, through the set and also with the crowd, who frequently indulged in some brusque and at times risqué catcalling. Most though, were happy to participate in some broad sing-alongs.
The Melbourne singer-songwriter has developed into an outstanding live performer. On stage she is a charismatic force and her material is broad enough now to maintain excellent momentum over 75 minutes. And although sales figures for her current release do not match her earlier work, she retains a massive fanbase.
Higgins' performance was a satisfying conclusion to an eclectic and entertaining weekend of live music.