Martha Wainwright at The Great Hall, Thursday, November 8. Rating: NNN
As she took the stage at the Great Hall Thursday night wearing a t-shirt reading "Rufus is a tits man" under a sparkly jacket, Montreal singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright exuded a fiercely individual blend of weariness and sexiness, confidence and vulnerability - and biting humour - that made her seem older than her 36 years, but thoroughly rock n' roll all the same.
Wainwright has been through a lot recently, including the near-simultaneous birth of her son and loss of her mother. It shows through in some of the songs from her new album, Come Home To Mama, which she was focusing on throughout the set.
It wasn't a smooth performance, as Wainwright switched between electric and acoustic guitars, fast and slow tempos, and was sometimes at a loss for banter or lyrics - but perhaps smoothness isn't what Martha Wainwright fans are looking for. It felt honest and inspired.
Take, for example, the spontaneous (or at least seemingly spontaneous) exchange between Wainwright and backup singer-and longtime friend-Ariel Engel (who also played in the opening band, AroarA), who joked with Wainwright about getting older. Or take Wainwright's introduction to her mother's I Am A Diamond, in which she explained that the McGarrigle Sisters set an example of doing what you want to do in music - which is how she rationalizes not being more commercially successful.
Wainwright was self-deprecatingly talking about doing a cover album of "songs by better writers," and it's true that often her performances of other people's songs are stronger (her covers of Edith Piaf and her mother's Prosperina were incredible). But perhaps that's because she's more careful with other people's words. When she clearly articulates her own lyrics, as on Can You Believe It?, with that great line about make up sex, or Everything's Wrong, a strikingly simple ballad for her son, she's brilliant.
Wainwright finished with Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, which some fans were clearly waiting for all night.