There’s no getting away from the fact that one’s family plays a massive part in the formation of a person. They are, usually, the largest contributors to both your nature and nurture and their influence affects the person you will eventually become. If you are the child of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, for example, it is likely that your path in life will be a musical one. In fairness to Martha Wainwright, who took to the stage of the Pepper Canister Church on Monday night (and indeed her brother Rufus), her career music career is sufficiently valid to discourage any talk on nepotism or unearned praise. Still, her family life is right at the heart of her music.
Before she took to the stage, however, Luke Sital Singh, played a very impressive set. The London-based singer-songwriter seemed to suit the venue, which seemed to be at the same time intimate yet cavernous, perfectly. There was a frailty to his voice that belied its power to fill the venue, even as he stood away from the microphone for one of his songs. He is a young man with a great future and if he can translate the live beauty of his music to recording.
But it’s Wainwright who is the reason the church’s pews are filled, and it’s certainly she who left biggest impression of the night. Mischievously, given the venue, opening the show with I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too and Can You Believe it – with its opening lines being “I really like the makeup sex/It’s the only kind I ever get – Wainwright charms the audience with her fantastic, and hugely dexterous vocals, and her heart-on-her-sleeve conversation.
She reflects on her relationship with god, she doesn’t really have one, and other questions of being without being preachy. It was talk of her mother that dominated the night, and perhaps gave rise to her recent album entitles ‘Come Home to Mama’. She talks of her mother’s life and death in a very frank and affecting manner. Her words are often ineloquent but she always seems to find a way to deliver her point to a reverential audience.
And then of course, there are her songs. She rattles through a selection of back catalogue with only the support of her acoustic guitar. The songs don’t sound as full as they do on her albums but that voice is more than capable of making up for it. Its range and adaptability is beyond compare and leaves no option but to stare on in wonderment. It highlights the reverence in which she’s held by the crowd that a stony silence is observed while she plays and that whoops and shouts are drowned out by rapturous applause as her songs end.
But as good as most of the show is, it is blown away by its finish. Martha Wainwright tells the story of Prosperina, the last song her mother ever wrote, before performing a version that brought a lump to the throat of all present. She follows this up with Everything Wrong, one of the most beautiful songs ever written about parenthood, before the first encore. This consists of the upbeat I Wanna Make an Arrest and a cover of Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, performed unaided by a microphone or an instrument.
The wow moment has somewhat passed by the time the crowd’s standing ovation sees Wainwright return for a second encore. The familial tone in kept here (she mention Rufus at several different points of night) as she plays Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, a song famously about her father, as the last of the evening; the audience entering the cold Dublin night with full hearts and numb bottoms.