Martha Wainwright is a songwriter.  Her father, Loudon Wainwright is a songwriter.  Her mother, Kate McGarrigle was a songwriter.  Her brother, Rufus Wainwright  and half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche are songwriters.  Her aunts, Anna McGarrigle and Sloane Wainwright are songwriters. Her cousin Lily Lankin is a songwriter.  There is a picture developing here; although not so much a picture as a family album.  The Wainwright family have, in fact, recorded several family albums; writing songs with, and about, each other – often with a devastating honesty, sometimes using words as weapons to wound.  Her parents’ marriage and divorce is well-documented in song. When Martha spent a year living with her father, at a time when she was a self-confessed difficult teenager, he wrote a song called I’d Rather Be Lonely.  Martha responded with a song of her own entitled Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. And yet, it has been said that the the only offence that can be caused in the Wainwright family is to write a poor-quality song.  Songwriting is in Martha’s bones and she is clearly her father’s daughter; she shares his smile and she does that weird kicky leg thing when she sings, just like he does.  Fortunately, she hasn’t inherited that other weird thing he does with his tongue; Rufus got that particular gene.

Martha opens tonight with a song of her mother’s, I Am A Diamond.  Its lines “I am a woman, I aim to achieve, I’ll eat the apple that was offered to Eve” seem a fitting mission statement for tonight’s performance.  Next up from Martha’s new album Goodnight City is the opening track Around The Bend.  When I first saw one of her father’s gigs, he had just recorded a song, Five Year’s Old,  about Martha’s fifth birthday party.  It seems unlikely that her line “I’ve been doing too much blow” is a reflection on the increased effort required to extinguish the growing number of candles on her birthday cakes as she gets older, but it is a song about getting older and wiser. “I’ve been doing too much blow, but now I only do the show.  I just want to get paid, I never get laid, they’re too afraid”.

Traveller is a beautiful, uplifting song about a friend dying from cancer, of his journey carrying on after he passes.  Franci is, as Martha tells us “ written for a child that I can hear right now”; her kids, seven year old Arc (short for Arcangelo) and three year old Francis, have arrived today from New York and are peeking out from a little doorway at the rear of the stage.  Backing singer Robin rushes off for a quick spot of babysitting while Martha and the rest of the band carry on with Breathing All Over You from her second album I Know You’re Married, But I Have Feelings Too.

A slight amount of confusion breaks out when the kids seem unwilling to allow Robin to return to the stage and so they are brought out onstage for an unplanned performance of a song called Maybe by Arc – after the show, Martha is keen to  scribble the addition onto the set list I’ve stolen from the stage.  Arc is a natural performer, perhaps one day he will extend the arc of the Wainwright dynasty even further and I’ll write a review that starts: “Arc Wainwright is a songwriter.  His mother, Martha Wainwright is a songwriter…” Franci, meanwhile, is content to roll around the stage and climb on the monitors, which was good enough for Jim Morrison so is perfectly fitting for a three year old.

Show well and truly stolen (and Martha clearly wouldn’t want it any other way, although she tells the kids to get back in the dungeon and play with the shackles), we get back to business with a selection of songs from throughout Martha’s catalogue.  Her band, Robin Dann on vocals, Thom Gill on keyboards and guitar, Phil Melanson on drums and Josh Cole on bass provide a subtle, understated backing for most of the show before getting a little more gritty on the last few numbers.

Franci gets another song dedicated to him, the gorgeous Francis written by Rufus.  Martha tells us later that it had not escaped Arc’s attention that his brother had two songs written for him on her new album, so Window was written for him.  The band leave the stage for a couple of solo numbers and a duet with Thom Gill of a song that Martha wrote with Ed Harcourt.  It is the highlight of the show, but unfortunately goes unnamed and doesn’t appear on the set list.

A powerful version of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2, followed by Martha’s own Window and Factory bring a cracking set to a close.  Martha has come a long way since she was five years old and I can’t wait to hear where she’s going next.

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