After launching her American tour and releasing On a Clear Night, her second album, in the U.S. last week, Australian singer/songwriter Missy Higgins has now “dedicated this year to America and to becoming a superstar,” she declares jokingly. “Hopefully it won’t take that long, though because I’ve got other things to do.” To Chicago fans entering Park West, a classy Lincoln Park music venue, through glass doors decorated with signs declaring “MISSY HIGGINS SHOW SOLD OUT,” it’s clear that Higgins has already connected stateside.Opening act Robert Francis sets the stage for the night with his lengthy poetics and Neil Young-meets-Bright Eyes vocal stylings. Performing six songs to warm the audience up and allow for all the late-comers to settle into their “Reserved” booths, Francis and his crew have the charisma and charm of a ’70s rock band. And as backup vocalist Kati O’Toole earns a round of applause after taking lead vocals for a few measures on their final song, it’s obvious that this audience is here for some girl power.

On a Clear NightAnd Missy Higgins, no stranger to Chicago, is here to provide it. “This is a lot bigger venue than when I was here last [in October of last year],” she gushes after opening with a powerful solo performance of “Any Day Now.” With her achingly honest lyrics and a relaxed stage presence that exudes comfortability and confidence, it’s no surprise that her fan-base has been steadily increasing since the release of her first album, The Sound of White, in 2005. As she hammers away at the keyboard and then jams on the guitar, the audience members in this relatively intimate setting must be aware that what they’re witnessing is the kind of show that they’ll be able to lay claim to having been at in a few years when Higgins is playing to sold out arenas.

Higgins’ view on staying connected to her music is quite clear: “I think society has become a little bit too obsessed with image… and that people are forgetting that the greatest thing about music is the individuality involved.” And this sentiment is evident in each of her songs, whether she’s discussing the pains of a breakup in “Wrong Girl” and “Peachy” or talking about finding the meaning in her life in “Going North” and “Steer.” And tonight the audience is loving it. “I know you’re all individuals and not just an ‘audience,’ but together you’re an audience and tonight you’re awesome!” she declares happily in one of her many asides to the crowd.

This ability to step out of the role of cool-but-distant “rockstar” and communicate on a person-to-person level with her audience is part of the Missy Higgins experience. And it’s evident every time she pauses between songs to discuss her career, the origins of her songs, or simply to admit that she’s “suspicious” about the new eco-friendly bottle using “30% less plastic.” (“Does that also mean that it has 30% less water?” she wonders aloud) that she’s on stage as an artist who loves her craft and not simply a musician working towards attaining a reality show on MTV.

Sometimes she gets so into her songs that it almost feels as if the music is controlling her, rather than the other way around. And the seated venue provides the perfect atmosphere for this singer/songwriter to express herself, as audience members can sit enraptured, observing a performer at work. As her almost two-hour set reaches its close, Higgins confesses that she’s stopped doing encores because “they’re such a blatant lie. I don’t like pretending my third to last song is my last song, just to walk off stage, when you know we’re coming back.” And as she gets ready to play one of her biggest hits, “Scar,” she asks the audience to “Pretend we went off and came back on.” Everyone has to admire that kind of honesty and respect for an audience, and as she finishes her final song, the uplifting, inspiring “Steer,” those walking out into the streets are hopefully leaving with a new appreciation of music, life, and the opportunities ahead.

Set list from Chicago performance at Park West (March 6th, 2008):

Any Day Now
Katie
Secret
Going North
10 Days
Dusty Road
This is How it Goes
Where I Stood
The Battle
All For Believing
Don’t Ever
Blind Winter
Wrong Girl
Warm Whispers
100 Round the Bends
Peachy
Scar
Steer

For more reviews by Zach Freeman, visit HubPages

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