Thursday, July 03, 2008

This Life

concert review: Martha Wainwright, Basia Bulat @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), July 1, 2008

Martha Wainwright @ Harbourfront (Canada Day 2008)
Martha Wainwright @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon

It was a more low-key Canada Day party down at Harbourfront this year, and not just because it fell on a Tuesday. With past Canada Day Festivities at Harbourfront featuring such exciting headliners as Final Fantasy, The Dears and Feist, the excitement for this year's lineup seemed less palpable overall, though that's not at all meant as a insult to the quality of the lineup. Actually, the lineup of Martha Wainwright and Basia Bulat was as good a representation of the talent of Canadian music as one could ask for, but when you have two acts treading similar folk, pop-rock territory, the audience didn't so much rock in Canada's birthday as much as greet it politely. True Canadian fashion guess. You know if this were the US, there'd be some major fireworks and explosions (and ironically some fireworks in the nearby harbour were hardly spectacular, which Martha jokingly commented on).

I arrived a little late for opener Basia Bulat and her band whose string-embellished, vocal-harmony laden, folk-pop tunes never seemed to achieve more than a polite response from most of the crowd[who I assumed were passerbys], except for pockets of enthusiasm who I assumed were actual fans of Basia. It didn't necessarily help that the sun was still shining and that the low rumble of a chatty audience was audible. Musically, they were as tight as ever but an audience dead set on sitting throught the entire performance even during the faster tempo numbers doesn't exactly inspire excitement. The chattiness of the audience (at least those towards the back of the seating) spoiled the experience of the quieter numbers for those of us making an effort to devote our attention. Overall a pleasant experience. Perhaps, under the blanket of night it would have been better show such as experienced, in my opinion, during headliner Martha Wainwright's set.

I wonder if all Martha Wainwright's introductions by an MC involve them mentioning her more famous musical family members - Louden Wainwright III [her father], Kate and Anna McGarrigle [her mother and aunt], and Rufus Wainwright [her brother]. With such a pedigree as that, it's no wonder that Martha's just as talented, though perhaps is it a disservice to her that they be mentioned at all, as if she needs to ride their coattails. Martha proved her talent quickly alternating her vocals between a caress and a swoop, and proving that she's adept at many different styles of music including folk, pop, and cabaret. I remember a few years back that she used to do a residency at some bar in New York City performing her songs in stripped down fashion, and to me her set resonated most during her stripped down performances such as the cabaret pop number she sang en francais with the accompaniement of a keyboardist during her encore. The band numbers were performed compentently (including the help of her husband/producer Brad Albetta on bass) and while the instrumentation was somewhat a little polished for my tastes, the songs and melodies really lended themselves well to it. (And reading my review of Martha's show at The Mod Club in June 2005, it seems my compliments/criticisms of her live show have remained fairly consistent).

Martha maintained her charming and witty personality throughout her set. She said something along the lines that she wanted to write depressing songs like Leonard and Neil and that maybe she should produce a vignette for the CBC and the NFB. You know she could only get away with these Canadian references here. She also admitted to having her period backstage but fortunately she was wearing a red dress, though she continued that perhaps the 'period' could be become a way for women to express their Canadian patriotism. Forget what I said about about Canadian politeness above - we're as edgy as the rest of them.

More of my photos are over at my Flickr.

MySpace: Martha Wainwright

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