Live Music + Gig Reviews

Martha Wainwright @ Plug, Sheffield

6 November 2005

There aren’t that many artists who can spring from a musical family and establish themselves as a performer in their own right.

The woman who’s the main attraction tonight has managed it, as has her brother, and her support act Teddy Thompson knows all about the pitfalls of having a famous name.

Thompson is the son of folk legends Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson, and also happens to be best friends with one Rufus Wainwright. He plays a laid-back blend of country-folk and Americana, which is pleasant enough, if not exactly groundbreaking.

One thing he does share with his father is a leaning towards bitter lyrics, especially on the stand out I Wish It Was Over and the self-loathing Turn The Gun On Myself. Titles such as these may suggest a miserable figure, but quite the opposite was true. Thompson was winningly self-deprecating between songs, meaning that even if his material wasn’t particularly memorable, he still went away with a rousing reception.

A rousing welcome is something Martha Wainwright is pretty much assured of these days. Since her debut album was released earlier this year, she’s garnered a loyal army of fans who pushed their way to the front to gaze adoringly at their heroine. Oozing a sassy confidence, Martha sauntered onto stage and glided into the beautiful When The Day Is Short.

Wainwright’s excellent band have helped to give her more fragile songs a more muscular arrangement – songs such as the excellent TV Show and Factory almost swagger off the stage these days. All of her band are excellent, although special mention has to go to pianist Tom Mennier and Martha’s cousin Lily Lanken on backing vocals (her performance on the aching Bring Back My Heart was met with one of the biggest cheers of the night).

Most of her debut album was played, although the highlights tonight were the lesser-known numbers. An acoustic spot saw Wainwright take on Leonard Cohen‘s masterful Tower Of Song to mesmerisingly good effect while another cover version was her take on the old blues standard Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out. This saw Martha wandering round the stage belting out the song while Mennier launched into a superb piano solo. It was, in a word, electric.

It was moments like this that proved that Wainwright is much more than your average ‘female singer/songwriter’ stereotype. She can do the sensitive acoustic numbers as well as more jazzy lounge numbers, and she can rock out when the occasion demands, as Ball And Chain demonstrates.

Similarly, her stage presence suggests several things at one time – defiant and strong, yet with an edge of sadness and vulnerability as well. She’s about as far removed as you can get from the likes of Lucie Silvas and Katie Melua, put it that way.

After an ecstatically received Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole (another song which seemed transformed by the band arrangement tonight), she blew us all kisses and disappeared, only to reappear quickly to perform a gorgeous cover version Dis Quand Reviendras Tu, an old French pop song. True to her French-Canadian heritage, she performed it absolutely perfectly.

It was, all in all, another wonderful evening in the company of an extremely talented woman. If she carries on like this, people will be referring to Rufus as ‘Martha Wainwright’s brother’.

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More on Martha Wainwright
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Martha Wainwright – Goodnight City
The Wainwright Sisters – Songs In The Dark
Martha Wainwright @ Ritz, Manchester
Martha Wainwright – Come Home To Mama