Loudon Wainwright III + Lucy Wainwright Roche @ Warwick Arts Centre, 18th May 2011

Loudon Wainwright

Last time I saw Loudon Wainwright at Warwick Arts Centre some years ago, he was supported by daughter Martha Wainwright. She was very much learning her craft back then, but has since gone on to achieve fame and has really developed as an artist, recording some excellent material, particularly her album “I Know You’re Married, but I’ve Got Feelings Too”. Loudon is head of a great musical family, that includes son Rufus, of course, but tonight he is supported by another daughter — Lucy.

Lucy accompanies herself on guitar on self-penned songs, and what is most immediately striking is her clear, pure voice. Like other family members, most of her songs seem to be very personal and storytelling, often about relationships. Her lyrics are a little less visceral than Martha’s, however. Lucy is still developing as a performer and songwriter, but has great promise if she can develop a strong personal style and more variety of material. She has one album under her belt, 2010’s “Lucy”.

Lucy Wainwright Roche

At Warwick tonight, she quickly wins the audience over with her charm — “I know most of you didn’t come to see me”, she acknowledges. There is quite a lot of dialogue with the audience and it is obvious that she has inherited her father’s way with banter!

Warwick Arts Centre’s Butterworth Hall has fantastic acoustics and you can hear a pin drop, but it is a bit of a sterile environment — you feel that it would be well-suited to a string quartet, but it is less suited to a more interactive performance, like that of Loudon Wainwright. Loudon really is best at a festival, where people are not seated and there is more electricity in the air. To make matters worse the gig is not sold-out by any means and the hall feels a bit like a half-empty barn. This is a shame as Loudon really should be better known and appreciated. He was a lot better known some years ago when he featured regularly on television, in The Jasper Carrot show and on the TV series “MASH”.

Loudon WainwrightLoudon Wainwright

He is a unique talent with a brilliant ability to communicate with an audience live, while his often very personal songs can be either very tender and thought provoking or hilarious. He also has a vast and varied song catalogue going back over 40 years, back to the days when he was cast as ‘the new Bob Dylan’ in the early 1970s. Despite all this, Loudon gives a great performance, which is much appreciated throughout the evening. He is a very expressive performer and has an amazing range of facial expressions, which draw and retain your attention.

The opening song is a new one called “Hip”, which is up-tempo to get things going. However, next comes an old favourite, “One Man Guy”, one of his key songs, which sort of sums him up. Throughout the evening there is a mixture of new songs and old favourites taken from various albums over his 40-odd year career. Interestingly he never performs “Dead Skunk”, his only chart hit, which would surely be a crowd-pleaser if he did. Loudon never just sticks safely to the old familiar material but challenges his audience with new songs all the time. He soon slips in an unreleased song, “POW”, about the Prince of Wales, demonstrating his insight and wit. It is not one of his best, but it gives the audience something to think about and chuckle — “would you want his (POW’s) job?”

Loudon WainwrightLoudon Wainwright

Other old favourites follow, including “New Paint”, “April Fool’s Day Morn”, “White Winos” and “Heaven” (“There’ll be lots of drinking in heaven, Smoking and eating and sex, What you didn’t do in this life bad for you, Will be totally cool in the next”). He even asks the audience for requests and actually plays them! After he announces that offspring Martha and Rufus have each had babies, someone suggests he play “Be Careful There’s a Baby in the House”, from Album II, which he duly does. The show also features songs from Loudon’s recent “High Wide and Handsome” album, his award-winning tribute to banjo player Charlie Poole, with Loudon playing the banjo.

There are also some impressive duets, harmonising with daughter Lucy, notably a cover of “Love Hurts”, reminiscent of the version by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
One highlight is “Unfriendly Skies”, which seems to be becoming a favourite in his shows. This is a very funny little number, but is a biting verbal attack on an airport assistant called either Suzie or Angie (unspecific to avoid litigation!), who damaged his guitar at Durango airport. Suing via a lawyer is expensive and he isn’t a litigious creep, he says, so he wrote ‘the bitch’ this song instead!

For the encore he sings his song “Primrose Hill”, about being down and out in London and drinking cans of Tennants with his mangy old dog and beat-up guitar. Finally Lucy comes on again and there follows another exquisite duet, “Beautiful” from his Charlie Poole Project album.

Review & Photos – John Bentley

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