Things have changed for both Higgins and John Butler since their last national tour together nearly 15 years ago. Their careers have been closely intertwined; she was supporting him at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion the night her debut single Scar hit number one.
«That’s my mothers’ group over there,» she says; they jump up and scream. «I said I’d be able to find you in the crowd because you’ll be the ones with wet patches over your boobs.»
She jokes about not being very «rock and roll» any more after a text from her husband, Dan Lee, asking about their daughter’s bowel movements.
Higgins moves between ukulele, guitar and keys, performing Song for Sammy and Futon Couch from her fifth studio album, Solastalgia, before finishing with Steer.
As the night rolls in, the heady beats begin as John Butler Trio start up Wade in the Water.
Butler does a moving acknowledgement of country before the stage is flooded in purple light for Tahitian Blue.
His five-piece band is tight, each musician providing layered harmonies amid smokey mist and white lights, three drummers delivering anthemic bolts as Butler slides around on his 12-string guitar.
The lights fade, the audience whistles. His performance of Oceans sets them into a trance, eliciting a standing ovation. One fan is standing in the aisle, crutches hanging from his cheering arms.
Fans clap, scream and dance through Better Than, Betterman, Flesh and Blood, Faith, Funky Tonight and Zebra.
Butler shares the story of Coffee, Methadone and Cigarettes, a song about the trauma his family endured after his grandfather died fighting bushfires in Western Australia.
«Do you feel like singing?» Butler yells as they close out their set. «It doesn’t have to be pretty — but it has to be loud … We have to be quick or we’ll get a $70,000 fine.»
The crowd claps and sings along to Butler’s familiar songs but it’s the band’s incredible musicianship that captures our attention.
Nicole Precel is a video journalist and reporter at The Age. She is also a documentary maker.