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[Review] The Waifs @ Northcote Theatre, Melbourne 08/06/2023

Review By Terri Nas

Thursday night took me on an adventure to the inner north of Melbourne, to the beautiful and stunningly restored Northcote Theatre. Built over 100 years ago, the building provides a beautiful mood and atmosphere as soon as you enter the doors. With its high ceilings decorated with ornate plaster work and the breathtaking cocktail bar on the mezzanine overlooking the theatre, you feel as if you’ve been transported back to another era. Here, is where I was to have my front row encounter with the talented and melodious Aussie folk rock act, The Waifs

20 years. 20 years can either feel like yesterday or an entire lifetime ago but in terms of music, time is irrelevant and The Waifs and their nostalgia-inducing music are a testament to that. The band are currently touring to celebrate the 20 years since their chart-topping album Up All Night was released back in 2003.

It was standing room only for the sold-out crowd, and the night began with an introduction from Mama Kin Spender who was the support act for the night. With Mama Kin on vocals and drum/rhythm section, and her offsider, Spender, on guitar and vocals, they provided some funky tracks with deep lyrics and a rich sound to get us moving and in the mood. 

The Waifs, consisting of Josh Cunningham, sisters Donna Simpson & Vikki Thorn, and rhythm section Ben Franz & David Ross MacDonald, entered the stage to an excitable audience and got everyone fired up and stomping along with the first song of the night, Fisherman’s Daughter. 

Nothing New was to follow, and then we soon found ourselves in London Still in which Donna recalled an entertaining story of trying to use her street cred of the song’s Triple J Hottest 100 success, on a younger generation that had no idea who she was. 

We were then immersed in Josh’s life dream of living a solitary life with a personal favourite of mine, Lighthouse. I adore this song for many reasons, but it’s the stunning harmonies in the bridge and Vikki’s harmonica solo that really hits the spot for me.

Flesh & Blood slowed the pace with its slow and gritty vibe, and then we took a “12 hour drive” on Highway One. We kept venturing through the Up All Night album in song order, and then once we arrived at Three Down, the lyrics and melody had me back walking the streets of towns that I love in the Deep South of America.

The Waifs have a literal way of storytelling which has the ability to relay their stories straight to your heart, unleashing a wave of nostalgia and memories that may or may not be your own. Since I’ve Been Around is a perfect example of this, and if you’ve ever moved away from your small hometown to the big city, then it’s one that will hit hard. 

To close off the album set was the atmospheric title track, Up All Night. We were then treated to a couple of extra songs from different albums, including a new song written about Donna’s latest love, The Swing

The Waifs bid us farewell and departed the stage, but naturally the crowd were hungry for more so they had no choice but to reappear for an encore. 

The encore was our train ride home from the gig, opening with the fun and upbeat Crazy Train and followed up with the beautiful song written about their grandmother, Bridal Train. After it was requested by many of the punters during the show, we were treated to a final rendition of the much-loved favourite, Gillian

This was the second time I’ve seen The Waifs this year, and it was so wonderful to experience them in a completely different setting this time. Their unique sound, flawless harmonies, and raw & relatable songwriting is what make this group so well-loved. Speaking to fellow fans, their music plays such a pivotal part in people’s lives through the highs and lows that life brings. A brilliant feel-good gig, and I can’t wait to catch them again. 

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