McCarren Park Pool: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 8/24/06
Anyone who has ever had the good fortune to see Martha Wainwright perform live can attest to the fact that she's a powerhouse. One of the most dynamic women in music today, she packs a punch like few performers can.
Sound like a wild boast? I assure you, it's absolutely true. She infuses her performances with such bare, raw emotion that even those who have never before heard a note from her are immediately drawn in, spellbound. As the rapt faces in the audience proved, her show at McCarren Park Pool was no exception.
The rain didn't deter her ardent fans from gathering early on a Thursday evening to see her open a girl-power trio lineup that also included Joanna Newsom & Neko Case. The weather was totally befitting of the occasion - a stormy day for a stormy lady.
Martha Wainwright has an incredible ability to convey the feelings behind her thoughts. The audience is not just hearing the poetry of her lyrics, but experiencing the emotional response to those thoughts. We live it right along with her.
She's one of the rare few whose voice does her bidding no matter how extreme, raw, sweet, breathy, high, plaintive, ragged or raging the demand she might make of it. Wherever her emotions go, her vocals follow.
It sounds exhausting, I know. But on the contrary, seeing Martha live is absolutely exhilarating. Just ask anyone who saw her cameo appearance during brother Rufus Wainwright's landmark Carnegie Hall reenactment of Judy Garland's historic concerts.
In a brilliant moment of synchronicity, what song did she choose to sing? "Stormy Weather," of course. How apropos. In anyone else's hands, it's a beloved jazz standard that everyone in the house had heard interpreted and reinterpreted a million times over. But in Martha's deft hands, it was as if everyone was hearing it -- really hearing it -- for the first time. With her trademark translation of lyrics into emotion, it morphed from a sweet sing-along song to a heart-wrenching song of love lost. With nary a dry eye left in the house, Martha stole the show, receiving a standing ovation after performing just one song.
Seeing her at McCarren was a real treat. As I've said before, one of my favorite things about the venue is the ease with which one can angle their way right up to the stage. So there I stood, with nothing but a monitor between Martha and me. Her friendly, self-deprecating conversational style between songs made the performance feel personal for everyone there, as if we were all sitting in some intimate coffee house. And with the thanks she gave her fans for arriving early and standing in the rain just to see her, the appreciation and affection was real.
A gracious goddess in my book, Martha was still human enough to joke about being nervous in the face of opening for her idol, Joanna Newsom, and down-to-earth enough to sign our ticket stubs and CD covers after the show.
An all-around class act, Martha has a pedigree few can boast: Her father is Loudon Wainwright III, her mother is Kate McGarrigle, and as previously mentioned, her brother is rising star Rufus Wainwright. But she transcends the bloodlines and stands on her own two feet. Her songwriting is intelligent without intellectualizing, centered around melodies that are both involving and hummable. But what you don't get when listening to her recordings is the warm humor, affable personality and sheer charisma that she exudes when in her element on stage.
Word to the wise: Never miss an opportunity to see Martha Wainwright live.
Alas, she informed us that this show at McCarren would be her last for a while, apologizing that she's leaving the road so she can head back into the studio and finally get to work on her next album. In place of the expected groans and argument, her fans cheered. Simply put, we're all desperate for more music from Martha. Even if we have to wait for it.
Watch TixGirl's videos from Martha's concert at McCarren: