Martha Wainwright - The El Mocambo, Toronto - March 22, 2012 Canadian Music Week

Review and Photos by Dave MacIntyre

Martha Wainwright’s enigmatic and dynamic vocal style is paired with a rich musical range, creating music that weaves through genres loosely defined as “folk” “pop” & “traditional”. Lately this has meant exploring Wainwright’s love of French music on her latest recording of Edith Piaf’s classics. In a rare, welcome, Toronto appearance at CMF’s La Belle Province showcase on Thursday, Wainwright brought with her a sense of anticipation about what she might decide to play from this varied body of work.

As the little sister of Rufus Wainwright (who is something of a musical prodigy) Wainwright has worked hard to emerge from that shadow. The woman who performed on Thursday was in full possession of herself as an artist from a great musical family who has found her own place, paying special tribute to her late mother, Kate McGarrigle, as only Martha could, as she covered a McGarrigle song. Carrying on the musical tribute, Wainwright also performed “the first ever song” she has written about her own experiences as a mother, in which she tells her child “the only thing I want you to be / is smarter than me”, in lyrics that let her devoted fans know that her ability to strip emotions to the nerve is unwavering in her latest work.

Performing midway through the La Belle Province showcase and following Galaxie’s high energy psych-rock performance, the El Mocambo stage was a daunting place to be for an artist performing solo at midnight. The industry crowd was revved up and distracted, failing to give Wainwright the audience she deserved, a situation irritating to fans and artist alike. While never losing her rhythm and with good humour, the artist sweetly asked the scenesters to “shut the fuck up” as only she could. (And reportedly, the place to be was an earlier showcase Wainwright performed the same day at Sonic Boom). Regardless of the obstacles, Wainwright put on an impressive show of warmly received new material. For Toronto fans that have waited a few years to hear it performed live, the inclusion of my personal favourite “When the Day Is Short” was an unexpected treat.