Two years on from her last album, the surprisingly diverse and pop-oriented 'Come Home To Mamma', Martha Wainwright performed at The Stables as part of a short tour ahead of a new album scheduled for release in 2015. A concert by a member of the Wainwright clan inevitably has the feel of a family affair. In this case, Martha wasn't joined on stage by any of her sundry siblings, cousins or family friends, but they weren't ever far away: she quipped about metaphorically stepping into her father's shoes - Loudon Wainwright III has played acoustic shows like this at The Stables countless times - and name-dropped her brother Rufus and half-sister Lucy at every possible opportunity. The family vibe extended into her choice of songs: she opened the set with one of her departed mother Kate McGarrigle's songs that was written for a musical that was never staged, and flicked through a bulging book of lyrics (and doodles and, she laughed, shopping lists) to alight upon a song that her father wrote during the Balkan War. That song, 'Pretty Good Day', a story about surviving a day without being shot, stepping on a landmine or seeing dismembered bodies on the street, seemed just as relevant for today's various conflicts as when her father wrote it. Much of the inter-song family chatter focused on Martha's immediate family - her husband and producer Brad Albetta and their two children. As she introduced 'Can You Believe It?' she made the point that her husband hadn't enjoyed many of the lyrics to her last album, and listening to that song as she delivered the words with a wry smile, it wasn't hard to see his point of view - he doesn't come off well in that song at all, and neither does married life. Elsewhere, she spoke about taking time out since the last album to have another child and then proceeded to showcase new songs - 'definitely not kid-friendly', she counselled - that were firmly rooted in the imperfections and hopes of parenthood, the realities of being married with children, or the loss of close friends far too young. 120530_Martha_Wainwright _03__475s Martha is a singer capable of capturing everything from tender, confessional whispers to shrill wailing, usually all in the space of a single song. Despite the format being just herself and her guitar, her performance was as physical and intense as any rock concert by a full band. Her face contorted as she delivered lyrics, her eyes screwed tight shut or wide-eyed and questing, stomping her boots or just fidgeting and jerking her guitar around like she was wrestling it under control. It all made for a compelling, almost sensual delivery, like she was investing her whole self in delivering the songs. The most poignant moment in the set came with 'Prosperpina', one of the highlights from 'Come Home To Mamma' and the last song that her mother wrote. Stripped back to just Martha and her guitar, the song's emotional core was every bit as powerful as its album counterpart even as it lacked the embellishments of piano, strings and choral harmonies that made the recorded version so stirring. Another track from 'Come Home To Mamma', 'Four Black Sheep', again benefitted from a more simplistic delivery, its cascading melodies and vivid word-pictures becoming all the more mysterious and ominous as a result. A deserved set highlight was 'Bleeding All Over You' (from 2008's 'I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too'), a brooding, volatile love song laced with the desperation of having been overlooked. Martha was supported by fellow New Yorker Addie Brownlee, an singer with a penchant for Dolly Parton covers. Tonight she was here to deliver pretty, heartfelt acoustic songs of her own interspersed with odd tales about building Ikea bookcases and taking cab rides with weird drivers / amateur philosophists.

Words: Mat Smith


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