Friday, June 20, 2008

martha wainwright @ the troubadour

Just assume that when you read the name Wainwright in the pages of our blog that what will follow will be a review filled with big superlative phrases and giddy declarations, all tinged with slightly less than veiled envy. This is true be it Rufus or Martha. No really, why can't I be the heir of such a robust, witty, and brutally honest family dynasty? Of course directly after Thursday night's show, I came very close to running over Loudon (a.k.a. Papa Wainwright) out on Santa Monica chances are I'm probably not in line for an invite to the next family Thanksgiving. C'est la vie.

On the tail of her killer sophomore release, Martha's ramped up her touring schedule. A good decision and not just because I perpetually manage to miss her performances. I remember very little of the last time I saw her, three years ago. Jet lagged to the point of incoherency (me, not her), much was lost in translation. This time, eyes open, internal clock intact, I can definitively say that while I like her work on CD (there are precious other artists I enjoy scream-singing to more during rush hour on the 405) performing live she kicks all manner of backside, so much so in fact, that she quickly seems to be outgrowing smaller venues like the Would-be Hipsters' beloved Troubadour.

Part of Martha's undeniable charm comes from her breezy, off the cuff, honest to a fault stage presence. From taking complements on her outrageous shoes (of which I spent part of the show calculating how to steal...despite the fact stiletto platforms would lead to a broken ankle) to complaining about how fat she was (if her performance-toned frame is fat, what does that make me?) to her musically tight songs1, everything was executed with the grace of a seasoned stage performer -- one with very little filter between her thoughts and work.

Of course what would a Wainwright concert be without the family in tow, this time in the form of Papa Wainwright, who joined Martha onstage for a call and answer duet version of his song "You Never Phone." (A subtle reminder for her to check in occasionally? Heck, when was the last time I called my own father?)

Martha's songwriting is growing increasingly stronger, but vocally she's already one of the best in the business, as proved with set closers "Dis-Quand Reviendras Tu?" and "Stormy Weather," the latter of which she thanked Rufus for allowing her to sing at the Judy Garland tribute shows, before blushing and admitting she felt a bit like a washed-up Vegas singer reliving her glory days. "Stormy Weather" raised goosebumps all over my arms, "Dis-Quand Reviendras Tu," like all things francophone, made me swoon. Martha don't get too nostalgic just yet -- you're not fat, and you're certainly not old! Judging by the night's performance there's still many more career highlights to come.

Also present was the lovely in her own right opener, LA based singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop. I feel that it's important to note that while she was once a survivalist, I have a panic attack if I go more than two hours without checking my e-mail. No one has ever accused me of being hard core. Riding high on well-earned notoriety with the KCRW set, she set the bar high early in the evening. Material from her ridiculously strong debut album Kismet is, if I might reuse the phrase, ridiculously strong live. Deceptively simple, plucked melodies serve as beds for her larger than life voice augmented with her equally strong backup singers. It's an audacious attempt at originality that pays huge, melodic dividends. Halfway through her set, giving her backup singers a well deserved rest and dancing across genres from folk to swing, Jesca enlisted the help of the tweer-than-thou Ditty Bops for a Boswell Sisters' cover. The result of this collaboration could only be described as disgustingly, disarmingly cute. You can quote me on that.

1. I was especially impressed after seeing her at Amoeba the next day where she preformed a handful of songs from her set the night before, giving each one a fresh vocal take.

(photo martha wainwright: carl lessard)
(photo jesca hoop: frank ockenfel)

mp3: "Don't Forget (live on White Sessions)" by Martha Wainwright
mp3: "G.P.T. (live on KCRW)" by Martha Wainwright

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