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Review: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jason Rosewarne

Due to covid and life generally getting in the way, it had been quite some time since Martha Wainwright had toured Australia. The talented singer, songwriter wasted no time in kicking back into an antipodean gear, strolling onto the Melbourne Recital Centre stage with her band and launching immediately into the title track of her current album ‘Love Will Be Reborn’, beginning a string of songs from that record including ‘Hole in My Heart’ and ‘Getting Older’, a tune which showcased Martha’s incredible vocal range. ‘Bleeding All Over You’ from her second album I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too was equally well received by an audience making up for lost time with their beloved Canadian performer.   

Wainwright’s comfort with the audience was evident in her casual, amiable storytelling. Particularly amusing was the back story behind the song ‘Around the Bend’, in which she often observed a girl on the New York streets who she assumed was some kind of drug addict, sex worker, as she was always seen on a corner talking to people and getting into cars. Turns out the girl was merely on her smoke break from her job at the school where her son now attends! She added that she now often makes time to go and have a smoke with her to appease her guilt.

Martha acknowledged that it was great to be back in Melbourne but “didn’t recognise the hood, the skyline is has changed, it’s unbelievable. I guess congratulations? I’m impressed. I guess you guys are doing well … Good on ya!”

As part of her show on this tour, Martha read short passages from her revealing memoir ‘Stories I Might Regret Telling You’. In the first reading, she spoke of her difficult relationship with her father and described dinner meetings with him, where she knew she was going to arrive late, knew it would infuriate him yet couldn’t stop repeating the pattern. She followed up by performing a heartfelt version of ‘Dinner At Eight’, a song written by her brother Rufus. Accompanied only by the deft touch of pianist  Edwin de Goeij, it was a powerful moment once again displaying her breathtaking vocal chops. Turning to her mother, she prefaced the Kate McGarrigle penned song ‘Go, Leave’ by telling us that its message is about having the right to choose and making your own decisions.

There’s a purity about the combination of grand piano, double bass and drums, the jazz instruments, that enhance the vocal performance, especially in a venue like this. Under the Melbourne Recital Centre roof, this band shone brightly. Pianist Edwin de Goeij, bass player Morgan Moore, drummer Tommy Crane and saxophonist Nicolas Deslis are impeccable musicians, who finesse Martha’s music with care.

Sifting through her own back catalogue, Martha then produced stunning versions of Factory and Far Away from her 2005 debut album. All the while, her face is so expressive as she injects her heart and soul into every lyric that she delivers.

Taking a seat at the piano, Martha then tinkled into the beautifully dramatic, French spoken ‘Falaise De Malaise’, the ‘Love Will Be Reborn’ album closer.

Again displaying the casual rapport and trust with her Melbourne fans she performed ‘I Chose My Children Over My Career’, a track which is still a work in progress, where she needed lean over to read the lyrics resting on the floor.

‘Take It With Me’, a Tom Waits cover was a fitting end to the show proper but not enough to quench the thirst of an enthusiastic Melbourne audience, who called Martha and band back for more.

The acoustics of the Melbourne Recital Centre were a perfect match for Martha and these skilled musicians, particularly for the stunning final tune ‘Prosepena’, the last song written by her late mother Kate McGarrigle. The band began the song a cappella with the room’s PA system turned off at Martha’s request, singing direct from stage to the crowd with no amplification. The band gradually returned to their instruments as the song progressed, with Wainwright’s flawless voice floating effortlessly above the euphony. It was a spine tingling finish to a delightful evening of music from a truly gifted artist.


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