goodnight cityMartha Wainwright @ The Triffid, Brisbane, Sunday March 19, 2017.
Words: Tim Byrnes

Canadian singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright is a member of the musically gifted Wainwright clan. At The Triffid last Sunday night, she made her audience feel almost as close to her as her family is.

Openers were Melbourne folk duo Oh Pep!, made up of Olivia Hally on vocals and guitar, and Pepita Emmerichs on violin and mandolin. The pair performed a bare bones set of emotive ballads, and the crowd’s focus on the two was so sharp you could’ve heard a pin drop.

Martha Wainwright’s entrance was simple: she casually strolled onstage, picked up her guitar, and began with a cover of her mother Kate McGarrigle’s I Am A Diamond. Much like the song’s diamonds, Wainwright instantly shone so brightly she had to close her own eyes, as her stunning voice shimmered through the venue.

After that striking opening, Wainwright invited her band onstage to back her on the pleasant, laidback country single Around The Bend (from her latest album, Goodnight City). Its lyrics fit into the trend of many of Wainwright’s songs, which are often intensely personal confessions from her private life, such as her tribute to her deceased friend Traveller. Wainwright apologised for the depressing nature of her songs, promising she’d play something happier, but adding the deadpan remark that her happy songs are too short. While her tracks can certainly be sad, her honesty is heart-warming.

Wainwright had many stories to tell in between tracks; she spoke about her kids and her family, and also pointed out she was wearing her mother’s favourite jumpsuit. Her voice soared through a dazzling version of her mother’s Year Of The Dragon – the first song Martha ever recorded. (“Nepotism at its best,” she joked.) Her vocals induced shivers when she followed up by belting the showtune-esque Francis, a song her brother Rufus wrote for her.

While Wainwright makes her songs sound huge when it’s just her and her guitar, she and her band did let their hair down with the much rockier So Down. She returned for an encore with a beautiful tribute to Leonard Cohen, performing his Chelsea Hotel and finishing with the lyrically excellent Factory.

After opening herself up so willingly in her beautiful show, it was easy to think of Martha as a new friend. That she can make an evening out so special is something to treasure.