The last time I saw Martha Wainwright was in Bruges, Belgium, where she was supporting Leonard Cohen. Exactly two months later, a brief visit to the United States enabled me to catch her at this excellent club in Washington’s buzzing U Street district.
The first thing that struck me was how sparsely attended the show was. It’s a truism that these North American singer-songwriter types are better appreciated in Europe than on their own continent, but it’s still very striking when brought home to you in this way. The 9.30 is a small venue, and even then was no more than a quarter full. Yet when Wainwright toured the UK earlier this year, she wound up in places like the Royal Festival Hall. Go figure, as they say.
Wainwright’s show in Bruges was a solo acoustic affair (we also had the pleasure of watching her soundcheck, which was probably more fun for us than it was for her). So it was good to see her with a full band this time. And she gave an excellent performance, filled with effervescent confidence and biting lyrical insight. Her voice is a remarkable thing – abrasive, versatile and charged with righteous intensity on songs like “BMFA”, the scathing attack on her father with which she encores. Neither wanting nor needing to maintain that level of indignation, she ends with a delightfully playful, skipping cover of Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” and is gone.
And she’s got great legs, but you knew that already.