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Live Review: John Butler Trio, Missy Higgins, The Waifs

2 February 2016 | 12:55 pm | Sean Hourigan

"This is certainly the most rock and/or roll performance of the night and gets people off their blankets to have a bit of a dance."

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A hot Sunday afternoon in the guts of summer is probably the best way to watch three of the country's best live acts. The sun's going down at 5pm when The Waifs come on, officially it's 29 degrees but it feels much hotter with high humidity and no breeze. 

The Waifs have a quarter century of experience and are old pros. How Many Miles is full of beautiful, country-inflected harmonies while the delicate Black Dirt Track slinks over the amphitheatre like a sunshower. A set highlight is the powerful Beautiful You, the title track to their latest album. Josh Cunningham's Dark Highway is dreamy and silky like a lullaby. It's a perfect song to listen to as the sun goes down. When London Still pours over the masses a cheer goes up. Donna Simpson gives a radio perfect version of the ever popular song. The set finishes with the eternally upbeat Lighthouse. Vikki Thorn's vocals and rad harmonica skills have been spot on all afternoon and it's a fitting finish to a wonderful set.

Barefoot, in a mostly white dress, Missy Higgins holds the sweaty crowd in thrall throughout her set. Though songs from The Sound Of White (2004) were prevalent, Higgins plays bits from all her albums as well as presenting two brand new songs. A beautiful version of The Angels' No Secrets is a powerful reminder of the emotion she can inject into a relatively delicate rendition. Everyone's Waiting and Warm Whispers give us a reminder that she's not just a singer of delicate little love songs. Man, those pipes. The two new songs Higgins performs are Song For Sammy, a song about all the beauty and terror of motherhood, as well as a heartbreaking song inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. Scar and The Special Two, played back-to-back, are standouts of the set. This is why Higgins has been a mainstay of Australian music for more than a decade. After the final song of the set, Steer, the crowd clambers to its feet in a standing ovation.

It's night when John Butler Trio take to the stage but it's still sweaty out on the hill. This is certainly the most rock and/or roll performance of the night and gets people off their blankets to have a bit of a dance.

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Only One is jumpy and danceable while the psychedelic riffs of Used To Get High For A Living have the crowd singing along and swaying. There's a couple of singalong songs in the set. Better Than and Zebra are other songs popular with the karaoke fans.

A recurring theme of the set is the guitar. Even though John Butler has a perfectly fine voice, he's a great guitarist. Many songs have extended guitar solos which sometimes tip the scales into indulgence.

People start leaving during Ocean, a 12-minute instrumental piece. It's about 9.15pm on a school night and families catching public transport need to get home. That's a pity because the song is pure electricity. It rises and falls, sweeps and dodges just like the ocean. It's a beautiful aural sensation. It would have been best if JBT had kept the three (yep, three) instrumental pieces in the set to just that. It's a standout and would have been a better counterpoint had it been the only one.

The set ends with a three-song encore, How You Sleep At Night, the funky Livin' In The City and Funky Tonight and a giant round of applause.