While Martha Wainwright draws a crowd every time she graces Ireland with her presence, tonight marks a departure for her, having been plucked from the more traditional music venues in the Capital and instead taking to the stage -w ell, altar – of the revered Pepper Canister Church. The youngest member of the Wainwright dynasty, Martha has worked her way from singing back-up for big brother Rufus to carving out a successful career of her own with an established body of solo work now spanning over a decade. It’s the last date of her tour in support of most recent album Come Home To Mama, released in late 2012. Thematically, the album addresses the changes occurring in Wainwright’s life over the past few years – she became both a motherless child with the passing of her beloved mother, legendary folk artist Kate McGarrigle, as well as becoming a mother herself with the birth of her first child. With such bitter-sweet emotive roots, and Martha’s trademark talent for truth, it’s unsurprising that a stellar album emerged as a result.
The joy of the Pepper Canister Church as a venue for music lies not merely in the aesthetics – the REAL beauty of it becomes clear very early on, as a queue lines the street outside before the doors have even opened. Unreserved seating means that the audience show up early, resulting in a near full-house – and deservedly so – for support act Luke Sital-Singh. The lack of a bar also adds hugely to the ambience – there’s little chatter or movement from the pews, instead a welcome respectful silence to allow the acoustic musical spoils unfold uninterrupted.
Martha Wainwright takes to the stage just after nine, and without even greeting her audience launches straight into ‘Bleeding All Over’, the title-inspiring track from 2008’s I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too; a song which exemplified her more polished pop leanings, but when stripped back to just an acoustic guitar somehow holds even more of a charm. In fact, the lack of a backing band affords the opportunity for renewed appreciation for two things – the first being Wainwright’s deeply honest and poignant lyrical approach, and the second being her incredible vocal ability. Her voice possesses a rare quality – it is truly an instrument in itself, theatrical in its tone and taking on many guises to match the sentiments of any given song. It fills every high-ceilinged inch with beautiful melodies detailing love and loss, and the complications that abound from both. ‘Everything Wrong’ dazzles, as does the classic ‘Factory’ – her songs are timeless, even if at times her grasp of the acoustic guitar don’t quite match the vocals.
Part of the lure of Wainwright in a live setting is her storytelling between songs – from the absurdities of her early career with ‘Four Black Sheep’ , to the bizarre Melancholia-themed ‘Radio Star’, to the irony of her standing on the altar declaring “I wish I believed in God…” as a prelude to the fabulous ‘Far Away’. Fond reminiscing of her late mother permeates her banter, as Wainwright pays tribute to her several times with both interpretations of McGarrigles work and her own personal soliloquies of grief – the standout being a deeply moving rendition of ‘Proserpina’. Closing with a combo of some stunning a cappella Édith Piaf and her signature song ‘Bloody Mother F*cking Asshole’, Wainwright departs bringing both the evening and the tour to a close, safe in the knowledge that she captivated the congregation of the Pepper Canister Church, and that she even got away with her sampling of the 15% wine backstage in the sacristy.