Tuesday 25 October 2016

Loudon Wainwright III at The Sage, Gateshead, October 2016 - review

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Loudon Wainwright III at The Sage Gateshead

24 October 2016

Maybe those whining about Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize for Literature should have attended one of Loudon Wainwright’s recent shows in which he mixes music (and words) with dramatic recitation of some of his father’s writing from Life magazine to get an understanding of how the selection and use of words have the power to involve, move and challenge people. In over 25 years of watching Wainwright live, this was undoubtedly the best show I’ve seen. There wasn’t the youthful tendency to cram in as many songs as possible, nor was he hampered by the demands of an audience who had come along purely in search of ribaldry – though there was some of that too! Last night’s crowd was simply enthralled by a man at the top of his game who had found a new way to present several of his songs.

He was relaxed and witty, looked better – more robust even - than I’ve seen him for a while and his voice was superb throughout. He treated us to old songs (School Days), obscure ones (I Don’t Care), covers (the late Michael Marra’s Hermless, here retitled Homeless), poignancy (The Picture) and the odd acerbically witty number (Double Lifetime).

The highlights, though, featured the use of the spoken (or rather, written, for all you Nobel dissenters) word mixed with music, a format taken from the recent Surviving Twin tour, a kind of posthumous collaboration between Loudon III and Loudon II, but featuring Loudon I and any number of family members and their dog. And in the intimate setting of Hall Two, it worked a treat, moving the audience with tales of childbirth, dying dogs and inter-generational resentments, mixed with some heavy ego and self-deprecation and then following up with an apt song, in one case, an outstanding Half Fist, a meditation on the way physical and emotional traits can be carried down the generations, that was so much more powerful than the album version that it warrants releasing a live recording of these shows.

No Loudon show is ever all serious and he had the audience laughing with a new song, Meet the Wainwrights, written to accompany a mini tour of Alaska where he was joined by his son Rufus, his sister Sloane, ex-partner Suzzy Roche and daughter Lucy Wainwright-Roche and where they seem to have taken the audience (or a goodly portion of it) with them to various venues. There was a little dig at Rufus, “more famous and much richer than the rest of us,” but essentially he was leading us to the killer line that if it hadn’t been for him, “none of you folks would be here.” Martha couldn’t make it but he was at pains to point out that she “and the bloody motherfucking asshole stay in touch,” which is good to know.

The great Chaim Tannenbaum opened for Loudon, who referred to him as the ‘absent-minded professor,’ when he couldn’t find the door to exit the stage – and he did, indeed, look like a professor and, of course, that’s what he was, studying mathematical logic and teaching philosophy while singing and playing folk music for over 50 years, often collaborating with Loudon, the McGarrigles or members of their extended family. With his first album only just released, he proved more than able support and joined his friend on stage for a few numbers, including a version of The Doctor that had to be updated because of Loudon’s age (an unbelievable 70 last month) and an almost nostalgic, affectionate take on Tom Lehrer’s The Old Dope Peddler.

Looking forward to the live version, Loudon. Just sayin’.


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