As you may expect from a concert venue which cost 42m to construct, the Bridgewater Hall has some superb acoustics. Primarily the home to Manchester’s Halle Orchestra, the venue also works perfectly for one man and his guitar, as support act Tom Baxter demonstrated.
Baxter sits squarely in the ‘earnest male singer/songwriter’ bracket that James Blunt has done so much to turn people against. This is a bit unfair though, as Baxter is a fine songwriter on his own – songs such as Skybound and in particular Better showcase his way with a winning melody and heartfelt lyrics.
Ably supported by his lookalike brother Charlie, who often stole the show by perching on an upturned speaker and slapping it in order to provide percussion, Baxter was a bit unfortunate to be playing to a half-empty auditorium, but those who did turn up early were suitably impressed.
There was only one person who we were to see though in all honesty, and when Martha Wainwright skipped onstage, looking as endearingly kooky as ever in frilly tutu-style dress and knee-high boots, she was greeted with an almighty roar. As she picked up her guitar and breezed into an immaculate rendition of I Wish I Was Here, she held the audience spellbound.
After that acoustic introduction, her band appeared and crashed into a note-perfect Bleeding All Over You. Wainwright is an uncommonly powerful performer, stood with legs slightly apart, and eyes closed while she slightly sways, she appears utterly caught up in the music. And when the songs are as personal as hers are (such as In The Middle Of The Night, an account of her mother’s battle with cancer), the effect is quite stunning.
There’s plenty of in-between song banter with the audience too, including a priceless moment where someone shouts out for Martha’s Eurythmics cover (“can you play Sweet Dreams Martha?” “Ummm, do you mean Love Is A Stranger, babes?” “Yeah, that’s the one” came the slightly sheepish reply). She also congratulated Manchester United on their recent Champions League victory, thus dividing the famously bi-partisan city with both cheers and boos.
The set list was understandably pretty heavy on recent album I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too, although there was still room for well-received numbers such as Far Away, This Life and GPT. There was also a rendition of Edith Piaf‘s Adieu Mon Coeur sung in perfect French, and a spine-tingling acoustic version of The Tower, introduced by a somewhat rambling anecdote about Iraq and self-deprecatingly described by Martha as “being full of overtly flowerly language”.
An excellent encore saw a lone version of her still most famous number, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, before the band (including Martha’s new husband Brad Albetta on bass) return with an excellent See Emily Play (which saw Martha clutching a lyric sheet). However, the best was saved till last, with a heart stoppingly beautiful Dis Quand Reviendras-Tu and a nice nod to brother Rufus’ recent Judy Garland tribute with a closing Stormy Weather.
She may, for the moment, remain a cult success (although both Coming Tonight and You Cheated Me sounded like huge hits here tonight), but as the audience at the Bridgewater Hall would testify, when she’s on form she’s an absolute knockout.