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Monday, March 25, 2013

Martha Wainwright @ Shank Hall

March 22, 2013

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Strumming her acoustic guitar and dancing in place, Martha Wainwright delivered a wide ranging set of material to an audience of faithful fans Friday night at Shank Hall. Touring behind her recent album Come Home to Mama, which reflects on both the birth of her son and the death of her mother Kate McGarrigle, the Canadian-bred songwriter prefaced many of her tunes with anecdotes before swathing them in a voice that ranged from earthy to near otherworldly.

Born into a showbiz family—her dad is Loudon Wainwright III, her mother was half of the McGarrigle Sisters and her brother is Rufus Wainwright—Martha deftly wielded a veteran’s touch deciphering well-meaning but slurry audience comments with grace.   Yet it was the range of her performance that would have been dizzying had it not felt so natural.

“Four Black Sheep” began with a programmed drumbeat before real drums kicked in and were joined by bassist Brad Albetta (also Wainwright’s husband). The tune, written for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a public relations piece, was a fictionalized tale of her younger days touring with a band that ends in a tragic wreck. Dark humor indeed.

She played solo accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, often in alternate tuning or an alternate language, French.  She just as smoothly slipped into vulgarity with “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole."

Encoring with “Stormy Weather” Wainwright dramatically wrung each note from the tune while Albetta’s nuanced piano playing followed her every move.  If some of her songs were as personal as an open-mic night, this one found Wainwright playing to a much larger stage—the back of the room even.

Several years ago Wainwright opened solo for Beth Orton at the Pabst Theater. That night she grabbed the audience with the verve of a young Elvis. Time has shown the wiser, as revealed in Wainwright’s evolving blend of humor and gravitas.
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