Live Review: The Waifs at The Palais Theatre – 3rd June 2023

Review by Natasha Wyborn
Photos by David Jackson – shotz by jackson

The Waifs ‘Up All Night’ – 20th Anniversary Tour

Saturday night saw a welcome return to the band’s adopted base of Melbourne, and now playing to a sell-out crowd of loyal fans in St Kilda; it was like coming home. The tour highlights the twentieth anniversary of one of Australian music’s greatest all-time albums. ‘Up All Night’ achieved double platinum status and won four ARIA Awards, no mean feat for a folk band from Albany in Western Australia. The show was an opportunity to play the album, an instant hit with fans.

Up All Night was the fourth album from the Australian Folk Mainstays. The trio comprises sisters Vikki Thorn, Donna Simpson and Josh Cunningham. Taking the stage, Simpson said this is a ‘Celebration of music. Feel free to sing along; that is exactly what the crowd did from start to finish. Opening the set with ‘Bridal Train’ from the 2004 same-titled EP. The song is not the band’s biggest hit but remains a crowd favourite. 

‘Shiny Apple’ followed by the album ‘A Brief History Live’ highlighted the distinctive three-clap intro by Simpson. Even after all these years, the lyrics are still haunting. The chorus of masses sang carefully, not to out sing Simpson as she held centre stage. 

Additional band members were introduced, long term friends Ben Franz on bass and David Ross MacDonald on drums arrived to complete the evening’s lineup. 

‘ Something’s Coming ‘ from the 2017 album ‘Ironbark; highlighted Thorn on Harmonica. All band members looked comfortable from the start exchanging banter.

What happened next was why the audience and loyal fans made the journey—hearing ‘Up All Night’ and playing the album in order was pure genius allowing the audience to know what was coming. I remember buying this CD when it was first released; I played it repeatedly and loved every song. Like all The Waifs albums, the song writing was shared between all members, a true meaning of collaboration. At the time, much like now, I was captivated by the freshness of this trio, the ability to add a stage in their life and allow the listener to jump in and share the experience.

The cover photo from the album provided a perfect backdrop to the evening ahead. ‘The lighthouse on the album cover is located at Cape Shank in Victoria’, Cunningham told the audience. It was clear from the start all members have lost nothing over the years, and all continue to bring something to the table. In between songs, the band gave insights into some of the lyrics, including.

‘London Still’ where Simpson lets the audience in on the song’s background. “People think this song is about me living in London for a long period, and I was there for four days, hatted the place and wanted to come home”. 

‘Lighthouse’ Cunningham told the audience the inspiration for this song was a fantasy about running away to own a lighthouse. A confessed introvert that liked his own company, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Although unachievable, Cunningham highlighted the ‘beautiful thing about being a songwriter is your dreams live on in a song.’ 

‘Since I’ve Been Around’ was Penned by Cunningham about his hometown in Moruya, NSW. The song delivered passionately highlighted the craftsmanship of one of Australia’s superior songwriters; Cunningham’s face showed signs of emotion, and the music still resonates with him after all these years. Thorn added the story of supporting Bob Dylan on his 2003 American Tour at the song’s end. At the soundcheck, Dylan said he ‘Liked That One’ referring to Cunninghams’ music, a better accolade I doubt you could not get anywhere.  

‘Three Down’, written by Vikki Thorn, talks about life on the road in America and the confinements of working, travelling and living with members over a long period. 

At the album’s completion, the band took the opportunity to play the audience some new music. Simpson excitedly disclosed to the audience, “I have written a song. It’s not a break-up song”, sharing her love for her new partner, Curly. The song title references her lover’s occupation working three shifts on and three off. ‘Swing’ is a song that undoubtedly has a place on the new album. ‘Heart in The Game’ could easily be sung at a local footy game or even the MCG. 

After a brief break, the band returned for a two-song encore

‘Take It In’ is a song reflecting on Cable Beach while the band were in Melbourne, featuring vocals by Missy Higgins. ‘Ironbark’, a crowd favourite, was the perfect ending to the night.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the special guests for the evening. 

Missy Higgins. On any other occasion, she is the headliner; however, on Saturday, through respect and admiration, she returned to play with a band that was influential in her career during the early days. 

Playing keyboards and guitar Higgins gave an insight into her career, songs and profoundly personal life, including a still-raw marriage breakdown, especially over the past twelve months. Her song list was interesting, returning to 2003 and playing tracks from her first EP. Higgins was open about her love and respect for The Waifs; this is obvious as these days, she plays undercard to no one. There was a clear reflection about a time after finishing her supporting set; she would sit, watch the band, and sell her then EP collecting names for her ever-growing mailing list. 

Her set included two brand songs, each filled with rawness; you could feel the emotion in the room. The songs had no names yet, fresh from the heart to the pen, then transferred onto the keyboard; I felt lucky to be in the audience for this; I think we all ‘Grieve for your love’, Missy.

Higgins gave insight into a time living in her parent’s garage; at only nineteen years of age, there was love, a relationship shared by both her sister and herself and the conflict that pursued. A close family and, as a result, an apology in music ‘The Special Two was written.

‘The Cactus that Found the Beat’ is an original song with a jazz feel written when Higgins was in year twelve. Accompanied by her brother David Higgins was a real treat to watch.

Jeff Lang was once described as ‘Australia’s Best Blues and Roots Musician. On Saturday night, you could easily see why. Lang’s guitar echoed around the theatre. Lang introduced his main role of the evening was to ‘Warm up the air’ for the headliners, but his role was so much more. Playing acoustic in its traditional way or as a slide guitar, Lang commanded attention and left me wanting to see him play a complete set and his own show. 

As this tour continues throughout Australia, the number of shows continues to grow. At last count, it was 44 and growing. It was worth the three-hour drive to sit and listen to three multi-talented musicians; going by crowd numbers, I am not alone in this opinion. 

Bridal Train, Shiny Apple, Something’s Coming , Fisherman’s Daughter, Nothing New, London Still, Lighthouse, Flesh & Blood, Highway One, Since I Been Around, 4th Floor, Rescue, 3 Down, Sweetness, Up All Night, Go, Swing, Miles, Heart In The Game,

Take It In, Ironbark