The Wainwright line is, of course, well-known. While married to one of the gifted McGarrigle sisters, LW produced Rufus & Martha. Lucy Wainwright Roche, formerly a family rebel, having long resisted the pull toward singing, songwriting & performance, has, thankfully, also succumbed to the almost inevitable, recklessly squandering her Masters, giving up grade school teaching and touring with her dad. Like her semi-siblings’ mum, she has a delicate, bordering on sublime voice; not as fragile, perhaps, yet the similarities are both strange & striking. She appears to have, on the other hand, her father’s sense of timing and humour; while being very much unto herself, as well. Her mother, of course, is muso and LW’s second wife, Suzzy Roche. (And let’s not forget LW’s sister, Sloan, whose offbeat, strange and haunting version of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name is a must-hear.)
Phew! It’s a long story. This perplexing contradiction is what’s interesting about the family: all are highly distinctive, yet, somehow, inseparable and inextricable.
Lucy, refreshingly unglamorous, delivered a solid, self-assured set, more than peppered with her ready asides and anecdotes.
She engaged, beautifully, with her audience, putting it utterly at ease, not least with her keen observations re our propensity to declare ‘no worries’ (she having been raised in NYC, where worry is the prevailing sentiment) and the cute, yet daunting appearance of the echidna. And she had us in the palm of her hand with a lilting singalong to Wild Mountain Thyme, which features on her first EP, 8 Songs (with a second to follow shortly).
Lucy promised her dad would blow our minds which wasn’t so very far removed from reality; even if he did forget the lyrics to his opening number. Actually, this served to connect us, at any rate.
Loudon is an idiosyncratic performer, physically, with his screwed-up expressions and tongue-waggling. I’ll venture, despite apparent ease and confidence, these betray a certain shyness. Nonetheless, from the very first, I was struck by his command of his instruments: both his powerful voice, with its uncanny range and acoustic guitar (occasionally, uke).
We heard some things, old, some new, some borrowed and, yes, some blue.
His new album is called Strange Weirdos and is, surely, an apt descriptor for our species. One of the most heart-rending tracks is (ironically, given his proliferation as a composer), in fact, not his, but an expat friend’s: Daughter (‘that’s my daughter in the water, everything she own I bought her; everything she knows, I taught her’). Grey in L.A. succinctly epitomises the man’s talent, in being able to coax a smile, even while plucking at our helpless heartstrings; resistance is useless and who’d want to?
Wainwright has an eye and an ear for a hook, but the ‘gimmicks’ are always in deference to the intent of the song, as in You Can’t Fail Me Now (‘you see right through me and you can’t fail me, now’), which, incidentally, despite his smoother style, betrays something of the spirit of his idol, Dylan.
Be Careful, There’s Baby In The House transported us, more efficiently than a teleporter, back to 1971 and his Album II. Not that anything’s been lost in the temporal translation. The Swimming Song, from the following year’s Attempted Mustache, was inevitable. Early on, the floodgates for requests were opened up, with little or no encouragement. It’s impossible to please all the people, all the time, but he went a long way, in a concert that lasted, I think a good two hours.
He’s a generous soul, too: years ago he was taken to a suburban Sydney pub, where he caught singer-songwriter Ben Garbutt’s act. Ben hails from barely the English side of the Irish border and is as adept a raconteur as the Wainwrights; apart from a moving, melodic plea for lasting peace in Ireland, he sparkled with deftly delivered wisecracks (his mother insisted there was madness in his father’s Methodism; his father, not to be outdone, insisted a catalytic converter was an Irish priest).
24 albums in only 58 years is a feat for any troubadour; that figure not, of course, including singles, appearances on others’ albums and in the odd film, such as the recent Knocked Up, in which he plays a gynocologist.
Wainwright shows, moreover, no visible signs of wear, tear or waning. I can well imagine catching him, live, when we’re both too old to remember why we’re even there. Whether it’s the grandfather, father, son, daughters, wives, or holy ghosts, this is one indomitable and indefatigable dynasty!
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Saturday 01 Tilley's Devine Café Canberra
Monday 03 The Basement Sydney
Wednesday 05 The Tivoli Brisbane
Thursday 06 Joe's Waterhole Eumundi
Sat 8 & Sun 9 Port Fairy Folk Festival Port Fairy
Wednesday 12 The National Theatre St Kilda, Melbourne
Friday 14 The Palais Theatre Hepburn Springs, Dayelsford
Saturday 15 Moss Vale Festival Moss Vale, Victoria
Sunday 16 Blue Mountains Music Festival Katoomba
Wednesday 19 The Factory Theatre Enmore, Sydney
Friday 21 & Sat 22 East Coast Blues & Roots Festival Byron Bay
Sunday 23 Point Nepean Music Festival Point Nepean
Wednesday 26 The Governor Hindmarsh Adelaide
Friday 28 Fly By Night Perth