MARTHA WAINWRIGHT’S performance at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall tonight is a fulfilment of a family tradition that dates back to the 70s when her mother, the legendary folk artist Kate McGarrigle, first played here.
Her opening act, BERNICE, perform a mixed bag of songs that meld together low-fi and chamber pop, elicited by an electronic drum kit, keyboards, and a feather-light voice that kisses the venue’s ceiling. Slightly self-deprecating comments about fame made by their lead singer, Robin Dann, sets a standard for casual realness on the stage tonight.
Using Bernice as her backing band complimented with an added bassist, Martha steps onto the stage in full bohemian glory. Wearing a flowing orange dress, with a strategically messy bun, and a guitar slung over her shoulder, Martha is casual-cool as she begins her first song, the eponymous single from her new album, Love Will Be Reborn. The optimism of the first song is immediately cut by the depressing realisation of mortality in Getting Older, bringing a stark shift in emotions that carries through her entire concert.
What is instantly striking about Martha is not only her vocal range and curious vowel sounds, but also her first-rate guitar skills. She doesn’t simply strum along, letting music passively flow from her fingers. She plays passionately, kicking and stomping her way through in a masterful demonstration of her craft.
When Martha addresses the audience, she speaks with an endearing sense of nervousness about her, entirely different from the command she has over the stage while performing. She’s human. With the majority of the songs on her setlist being from her newest album, she explains that it’s all about the past five years of her life: “The good, bad, and in-between.” Written in the wake of a rough patch, a lot of the songs are heartbreakingly vulnerable, but the feeling in the auditorium doesn’t linger in sadness for too long – the show is shrouded in a hopeful light.
With a fresh approach to each tune, there is never the dreadful thought that you’re going to hear just another sad song. She sings of feelings that range from falling head-over-heels in love with someone, to the pain of a contentious divorce and even being stuck in the middle of a lake. She also has an expansive range in her approach to each song – Wainwright weaves together the stylistics of pop, rock, blues, and jazz while maintaining the common thread of feet-on-the-ground folk music.
Ending the night alone with her guitar, she closed the show with her anthem: You Bloody Motherfucking Asshole. In a performance that could make you cry, laugh, and want to dance, the Love Will Be Reborn tour marks Martha Wainwright’s incredible re-emergence from the five-year darkness of being away from her music.
I asked her how she felt to end her tour here in Liverpool. “It’s been so great to be back working again, being on stage with musicians, and connecting with an audience…it was really meaningful. And to end the tour here in Liverpool, where the Wainwrights are from originally, it feels good, it feels special.”