Martha Wainwright nonchalant yet sharp at the Imperial

Martha Wainwright with Mappe Of at the Imperial, 10/29/17

Martha Wainwright@Imperial
Photo by Sharon Steele

Martha Wainwright was effortlessly vibrant, conversational, and funny at the Imperial last Sunday (Oct. 29), more so than usual. Musically though, she remained as sharp as ever.

Not so chatty was opener Mappe Of, the project of Whitby, Ontario’s Tom Meikle. With his sterling debut album A North Star, A Perfect Stone, he has been gaining high praise, particularly in the form of comparisons to alt-folk artists including Fleet Foxes and, most frequently, Bon Iver. True, Meikle often slipped into an electronically manipulated falsetto, and his compositions reached for mountainous heights, but meatier guitar parts mixed with whirring, wilting ambient touches to create heavenly interludes more akin to post-rock.

Wainwright opened her set alone with “I Am a Diamond,” a song by her late mother Kate McGarrigle. Right away on this simple strummer, the power of Wainwright’s voice and her ability to sustain such a force without taking a breath came to the fore as she stomped her foot to keep time.

Martha Wainwright@Imperial
Photo by Sharon Steele

On “Around the Bend”, from her latest album Goodnight City, her voice reached a pitch I hadn’t often heard from her. I hadn’t heard anything from her like the charging number “So Down” before, also from Goodnight City. “Holy shit, Martha! Wow!” someone exclaimed after this, the closest she’s ever come to a punk song.

As talented as her band was – Tom Gill on guitar and keys, Phil Melanson on drums, and Josh Cole on bass – some of her best moments came when they hung back, like when she took on “This Life” with only an acoustic guitar or when only Gill sparsely accompanied her. While explaining the concept behind Goodnight City, which was half-written by artists including Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, Beth Orton, her brother Rufus Wainwright, and more, she joked that she “got lazy” and “took advantage” of all her famous friends and family members. From there, she went hands-free to sing “Francis,” a song Rufus penned for the album, while Gill played keys.

Unrestricted by a set list, Wainwright performed off of the top of her head. “I’m gonna do a new song,” she said. “I don’t think it’s finished yet, but pfft.” She noted that she forgot to bring her records, so there was nothing for sale. Again, her answer was, “Pfft.”

Realizing while in the UK recently that she put out her first album 11 years ago, she treated fans to a few oldies from that self-titled including “Factory,” “G.P.T.,” and “When the Day Is Short.”

Wainwright threw back to the past one more time for her only encore. “Well, we began the show with a Kate McGarrigle song, so we’ll end with a Kate McGarrigle song.” With Gill on keys and Cole and Melanson providing backup vocals, she bid goodnight to our city with the somber, processional “Proserpina.”

Martha Wainwright disclosed to the Vancouver crowd that last Sunday night was not only her final show with Mappe Of, it also may have been one of her final shows for a couple of years as she focuses on her family. However much she may need a break (she had been touring for a year which is a long time especially given that, as she had mentioned, she couldn’t bring her children), she didn’t show it in her musical performance.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu

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