Melbourne turned on a perfect Autumn evening for this great double bill of Martha Wainwright and her opening act, New York via California and Boston based singer songwriter Margaret Glaspy. The first thing that struck me about the zoo setting was how relaxed and well organised it was. There was no pushing or shoving and no overly enthusiastic security. The stage was positioned perfectly and the sound was flawless. I loved the fact that the crowd were music fans first and foremost – not there for the wine or the food and very open to listening. It was a great atmosphere right off the bat.
Margaret Glaspy was very impressive with her Telecaster, together with a tight and solid rhythm section. The raw guitar sound really hit the mark and her set of original lyric based songs impressed me enough to go back and seek out her previous band The Fundies. Glaspy is definitely someone who will stay on my radar after hearing her for the first time here.
Martha hit the stage with her band just as the sun was setting. Dressed in a uniform of grey mechanic’s overalls, the band comprised of Tom Gill on piano and electric guitar, Josh Cole on bass and drummer Phil Melanson, the latter two having played on her latest album Goodnight City. Wainwright is a woman who is proud to wear her ovaries on the outside – literally. Her bright pink pendant depicting the female reproductive organs was the only splash of colour allowed, and reinforced her strength as an artist and a performer. Armed with her Martin acoustic guitar, her voice, her wit and her songwriting ability, she is a force to be reckoned with.
The new album featured heavily in the first part of the set with Wainwright explaining that she had taken a more positive approach to songwriting for Goodnight City, with songs focusing more on her new and more positive obsession – her children. This album was also very much a collaborative album in terms of songwriting including contributions by her brother Rufus who penned Francis, beautifully accompanied by Tom Gill on piano in the live setting, and Somehow written by Sydney sider Julia Stone. Switching performance mode seamlessly between solo acoustic, full band, and vocals and keys throughout the set, it was Wainwright’s ability to fully connect with the audience through her songs and her stories that kept the warm and appreciative crowd engaged. As a performer and as a musician she has developed and grown so much since the first time I saw her back in 2005 with her brother Rufus, and her late mother Kate and aunt Anna (The McGarrigle Sisters) before she had even released an album. Her ability to hit high notes with force and clarity and absolute accuracy was something to behold. No sliding around to get there, just bang on and very impressive.
We were treated to a brand new song, written in England just 2 weeks ago with Ed Harcourt, which she said was prompted by seeking hope in the future, particularly in the current political climate. Personally, I was delighted to hear her perform a handful of songs from her debut, self titled album of 2005, including the rocking GPT aka Green Point Tavern which is a bar she often frequented in Brooklyn, This Life and Factory being the highlights. We were also lucky to hear Year of the Dragon, from the McGarrigle Hour family album of 1998 and a joyful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel which she really made her own. The family connections in her songs and throughout her performance here were steadfast and strong. The legacy continues and I’m sure the baton will be passed forward when this new generation of Wainwright/Mcarrigle/Cohen kids, still in their infancy, join the musical tapestry of this super talented family.