Review: Kate Miller-Heidke

Kate Miller-Heidke teams up with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for an impressive concert that doesn’t fully exploit the potential of the pairing.

“Thanks so much to the Festival for letting me in,” Kate Miller-Heidke says early in her set. A regular at the Fringe over the years, the call up to the Adelaide Town Hall backed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is the latest in a series of concerts reworking her material for Australia’s most prestigious spaces and high-profile ensembles.

Miller-Heidke’s work has often been driven by the fun tension between her technically mesmerising and frequently theatrical vocal talent, and the unassuming nature of her lyrics, peppered with mundane but resonating imagery. Kate Bush via Ramsey Street. That fun frisson is turned up to 11 amongst the lofty surroundings of Adelaide Town Hall, backed by its giant pipe organ and ornate architecture.

It’s particularly poignant on Elysian Fields, a song which contrasts memories of dull day jobs at David Jones with imagery of the Champs-Élysées. With a perfectly measured orchestral arrangement that allows abundant room for Miller-Heidke to tease out each verse’s straight-faced punchline, before melting into a dreamscape befitting the escapism of the chorus.

A technical hiccup with husband and collaborator Keir Nuttal’s guitar forced a quick rearrangement of the set, placing two excerpts from Miller-Heidke’s 2014 collaboration with QPAC The Rabbits early in the night. She explains apologetically that it has inverted the set’s planned progression that would usually climax with this impressive achievement, showcasing the depths of her vocal talent hinted at in her early material. It does noticeably undercut the night’s trajectory, especially set against her darkly comic Stalker song and You’ve Underestimated Me Dude. Such songs, which practically snort at the composure and grandeur of the operatic pieces, make the pivot to the Rabbits material all the more impressive.

But the need to heavily shake up the set in light of Nuttall’s brief absence becomes clear when a good section of the night sees Miller-Heidke backed only by his guitar and her piano playing. At first, it offers a fun insight into the pair’s creative chemistry and the base from which her vast arrangements grow. It’s entertaining, but during some comically extended guitar solos by Nuttall begins to drag. As talented as Nuttall is, Adelaide is bursting with acoustic guitar players with loop pedals a this time of year, and when a voice as singular as Miller-Heidke’s and a troupe of players as impressive as the ASO are sitting by watching the 3rd minute of a guitar solo, it’s a bit of a waste.

Prefaced with one of the many self-deprecating anecdotes that Miller-Heidke uses to puncture the lofty pretensions of such a high profile orchestral collaboration, she closes the night with a rousing arrangement of her breakthrough hit Words. Always an eccentric addition to the radio airwaves when it was released, ten years later the added embellishment of the ASO demonstrates exactly why Miller-Heidke has long outgrown the Spiegeltents and club shows of her early career.

Kate Miller-Heidke performed at Adelaide Town Hall on Friday, March 9

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