Kate Miller-Heidke was the first musician I liked without being told to – by a parent or a magazine or a friend – I was in high school, I lived in deep suburbia, I was in love, and every word of her EP Telegram felt like it was written directly to my heart. I kept up with all her new releases throughout high school, but for some reason I lost track of her after a few years.
When I heard that Miller-Heidke was to perform with the MSO, the idea instantly made sense. I remembered her operatic voice, and her sense for the bombastic and theatrical, and I knew it would be a match made in heaven. I was not disappointed.
Walking into the Plenary at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, it was clear from the orchestra on stage that we were in for a few string-centric arrangements. The opening piece, 'Bliss', immediately put the strings to good use in one of Miller-Heidke’s simplest, most euphoric ballads. This and most other pieces in the concert were accompanied by the visuals created by Australian artist and film maker Amy Gebhard, which for the most part provided a beautiful visual ambience for the music without drawing attention too often.
As the concert went on, I remembered something I’d forgotten about Miller-Heidke – she is very funny. In her stage patter, Miller-Heidke’s sense of timing and tone are impeccable. Many of the songs were interspersed with fun anecdotes involving her long-time collaborator and husband, Keir Nuttall, with whom Miller-Heidke shared the stage for the evening. Nuttall’s loveable, goofball presence was unbelievably endearing throughout, and his rock guitar stylings add a compelling dimension to his and Miller-Heidke’s already eclectic compositions.
And it’s not just between the songs that Miller-Heidke’s humour shines through. What is so compelling about her music –and what made the MSO partnership shine – is the banality of many of her subjects. Alongside more earnest pieces like 'Bliss', 'Sarah', and some tunes from her opera The Rabbits, many of Miller-Heidke’s pieces are about the everyday – eating ice-cream in the nude; being condescended to by men; working at David Jones and wishing you didn’t; regretting social faux-pas from high school. Miller-Heidke’s gift is to take these everyday experiences and to elevate them to the scale of opera, of drama, of full-orchestra arias, full of pathos and so much heart. This skill is already more than evident on Miller-Heidke’s albums, but the arrangements for the orchestra elevate these daring compositions to even dizzier heights of power, passion and catharsis.
In amongst all the drama of the orchestra, it’s worth singling out and talking directly about Miller-Heidke’s voice. It is a dream. She is the best of all things a vocalist can ever be – a consummate wordsmith, a virtuosic musician, and a true entertainer all at once. There seems to be no corner of her voice left unexplored, from whispered half-singing to growls to staccato trills and rhymes to soaring operatic high-notes sustained for what felt like minutes at a time. She is a rare and powerful force, and a glory to behold live.
For me, this concert felt like a reunion; like catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen for the better part of a decade, and instantly remembering everything I loved about them. I’ll certainly be spending the next few weeks catching up on all of her music that I’ve missed since high school. But regardless of how familiar you are with Miller-Heidke’s music, this concert was a feat of musicianship, humour and performance.
MSO + Kate Miller-Heidke
Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall performing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Benjamin Northey
Visuals: Amy Gebhardt
The Plenary, January 28