MARTHA WAINWRIGHT with AMY MILLAN and JOEL KROEKER at the El Mocambo, January 30. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
as a member of the music-loving masses who were super-bummed when the El Mo closed its doors on rocker shows in favour of amateur dance classes, I'm thrilled that it's back in business. But judging by last Friday's double booking, a few kinks still need to be ironed out. The low-end buzz from the top floor, where Dan Burke had booked some rowdy rockers, had a trickle-down effect that interfered with the laid-back vibe the stellar musicians on the ground fought to pull off.
Nu-roots rock upstart Joel Kroeker escaped unscathed since his set started before most self-respecting rawkers make it to the bar. Armed with Randy Bachman-approved electric guitar chops, Kroeker warmed up the snowy crowd with a sweet set of radio-friendly John Mayerish ditties, including the standout sing-along Goodbye Jane from his new Melodrama disc.
He's more charismatic live than in the studio, and his beautiful closer - a cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah that made me feel all tingly - suggests he's got superstar qualities.
The folks upstairs had started up by the time Stars belter Amy Millan took the stage to show off her indiegrass solo tunes, but Millan handled the annoying dull roar with seasoned professionalism, coaxing the audience into revved-up fits of hollering "to show 'em we're having a better time down here. You guys put the hoot in nanny!"
Curled seductively around the mike stand, she managed to break through the noise pollution with an incredible quiet intensity. Her solo material has stark elegance (aided Friday night by the mandolin skills of Crazy Stringer Dan Whiteley ), like a cross between Cat Power and old Appalachian lullabies - a total 180 from Stars' dreamy baroque pop.
Martha Wainwright 's phenomenal set all but blocked out the upstairs interference completely. The underdog of the Wainwright-McGarrigle dynasty has the same dramatic flair that makes her brother such a captivating performer, evoking a boozy, brazen chanteuse from a Euro cabaret.
She's a better musician than Rufus, with a gift for interpretation, an ear for phrasing and an elastic, chameleonlike voice that's transformed on every tune. She hiccupped pathos in a Dylanesque rambling cadence on opener Bloody Motherfucking Asshole, cooed like a bruised coquette through Factory and affected a husky R&B urgency on the jagged Car Song.
She saved the most transcendental moment for her encore, though, ambling back onstage with her piano player, smirking as she asked for a smoke.
Wainwright may have scoffed when NOW's Tim Perlich suggested she release an album of standards, but when she launched into a staggering version of Cole Porter's Allez-Vous En, replete with hand gestures, Gallic aloofness and vibrato on the extended notes that told a song's worth of stories, it was fucking impossible to take your eyes off her.