6 February 2017
O2 ABC, Glasgow
3 February 2017
After performing at Celtic Connections as The Wainwright Sisters last year, at first it feels like there’s a big, sister-shaped hole on the stage tonight when Martha shyly moseys over to the mic. She’s not joined by Lucy Wainwright Roche, the other half of her folk song and country double act, their voices dorkily dovetailing around one another’s in ink black harmonies. But then, she’s also not joined onstage by her mother, enigmatic, melancholy folk singer, Kate McGarrigle, or father, roguishly charming folk singer, Loudon Wainwright III, or brother, baroque pop, turned opera composer, Rufus Wainwright. Still, the entire family gets summoned at one point or another, as if magicked up by some time travelling, sonic satellite link to perform as invisible backing band with her; Rufus wrote ‘Francis’ on her album Goodnight City, released late last year, and his theatrical phrasings and louche, late-night cabaret drama come through on her spotlit, torch song delivery. Her son, Francis, gets a second mention in ‘Franci’, written by herself, although she drily deadpans that she had to ask other people to write the other half of the album as she “was busy procreating.”
Her performance is an amalgam of things that her genes and upbringing have gifted her with; French language choruses, wistful sarcastic asides, flashes of sassy magnetism, moments of sadder reflection – but despite the family influences, her unhinged skill is still all her own. Dressed in a baggy boiler suit, decorated with a tasselled necklace of a uterus and fallopian tubes, she likes to lift her knee high for emphasis on certain songs, and rolls her torso and hips slowly around a cosmic, synth-pop number written by her mum and aunt, Anna McGarrigle. Her own songwriting lets her voice rollercoaster through crazed, clear and keening styles; scratchy and squeaky one minute, bluesy and syrupy the next. ‘Traveller’ is her take on Nina Simone’s excellent ‘Baltimore’, a raspy, rock lament, written for a friend of Wainwright’s who died young, and the bassy funk of ‘Take the Reins’, written especially for Wainwright by Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, gives a burst of mid-set energy (it’s the last night of Wainwright’s tour, and she’s burning a bit dimmer than usual). Although it feels like something’s missing for some of tonight’s show – maybe it’s the dopamine hits she seems to take from performing with her actual family onstage – her acoustic cover of her mother’s last song, ‘Proserpina’, about the Greek goddess Persephone, is the highlight, an otherworldly group harmony summoned up from the underworld and the afterlife.
Read the review at The Times here (subscription needed).