Live Music + Gig Reviews

Martha Wainwright @ Bloomsbury Theatre, London

28 May 2006

Martha Wainwright is, like all other young artists with famous parents,blessed and cursed. While she is no doubt grateful for the fanbase she hasinherited from Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, at thesame time she must suffer the frustration that few of these fans willapproach her on her own terms.

Happily, Martha’s brassy brand of feministfolk-pop has also attracted a young and hip following who don’t even knowwho her parents are. This was reflected tonight in the crowd at theBloomsbury Theatre, a small and bland venue owned by University CollegeLondon but which nevertheless hosted Paul Simon, no less, a fewnights previously. Like brother Rufus Wainwright‘s following, Martha’s audience trulycrosses the whole spectrum of ages (it remains, though, thoroughly white andmiddle-class).

She is an extraordinary physical presence, an Amazonian beauty dominatingthe stage in her sleeveless red dress as if she were the 50ft woman. Likeher father and brother she sings and plays with wonderfully expressiveidiosyncrasies – for Loudon’s gurning and Rufus’s pining into themicrophone, see Martha’s sensual swaying of her hips to her song and pumpingof her left leg at the more intense moments.

Tonight she played most of hereponymous debut album. The requisite beauty of Far Away was stunninglyachieved, as was the intimidating swagger of Ball and Chain and, of course,the cathartic rage of her signature song, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. Thepower of the woman’s voice cannot be fully acknowledged on record, and whenshe opened her lungs here she blew this reserved and timid audience intonext week.

But with an honourable sense of democracy, this show was very much notall about Martha Wainwright, for she had invited many friends and family. NoRufus, but Kate and Anna McGarrigle performed back-up all night, while thelikes of Ed Harcourt, Thea Gilmore and Chris Stills(another with esteemed parentage – son of Stephen Stills) completed the all-star band.

Despite the ramshackle and unkempt nature of it all(Martha: “we don’t practise or rehearse – we hope you’ll find it charming”)the sense of fun and camaraderie filled the auditorium. Each artist wasallowed their own chance to perform, with Ed Harcourt’s You Only Call MeWhen You’re Drunk going down particularly well.

An unexpected moment ofsublime magic occurred when this troop of talent performed the McGarrigle’sMy Sunflower. Introduced as a poem by William Blake committed to song, Imust say I truly feared the worst, but what followed was a song of majesticRomance, wonder and melodic beauty.

We soon returned to Martha’s material, and between swigs of tequila, sheplayed some intriguing new songs with the promise of a new album. Bizarrely,she said “I’m still trying to see if I can write songs”. The legions whowere entranced by her first album can attest she most certainly can.

Thefresh material proves it and perhaps sees her moving on to a calmer, moremature level after the explosion of anger that was her first album.Celebrities in the audience included Neil Tennant of the Pet ShopBoys and Julian Barratt from TV show The Mighty Boosh, who, like therest of us, witnessed a very smiley Martha come of age.

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