Martha Wainwright | Pop review

Jazz Cafe, London

At Martha Wainwright's last solo show in London, she went into labour, which is certainly one way of ending a gig. Two months later, the mother of a premature son who has yet to leave hospital, she was back on stage, ­pensive and exuberant. "I've got very little to talk about," she said, ­"because I'm only just coming back into society." She's sleeping at ­University College Hospital at the ­moment, apparently, which she refers to as "the hotel". This she says by way of introduction to the song Jesus and Mary, whose chorus – "Don't bring me down, no, don't bring me down" – she sang with heartfelt weariness.

Her striped leggings, she added, were "inspired by the clowns in the ­children's ward". Despite the giggles and wise-ass barbs that dotted the show, it was obvious that this is a ­difficult time for her. Performing alone for most of the evening, she delved into the cracked heart of her songs: from the start, with Bleeding All Over You and When the Day Is Short, she was deep in lovelorn terrain, wordy and beseeching, yet perversely sensual. This Life was a tour de force that saw her exploring the whooping heights and shuddering bottom notes of her range.

Though one of a select group of ­artists who can easily carry a solo acoustic show, Wainwright blossoms in company. When jazz pianist Zoë Rahman joined her for four numbers from her current record, Martha Wainwright's Piaf Record, she became physically ­demonstrative, clutching her chest and clawing the air. The emotion unleashed by singing in French was best, however, when applied to less stagey songs, such as Adieu, Mon Coeur.

The finale was a duet with visiting dad Loudon, who upstaged his singular daughter with one laconic comment: "I must say, you're in incredible voice. I don't know if that's hormonal, or what."


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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