Live Review | Royal Opera House, York | Review by Liam Wilkinson
Mention the name ‘Wainwright’ to the person sitting next to you and it’s a safe bet that they’ll think of either wagon-makers or musicians. Okay, the odd one or two might well picture those countless little hand-written guides to walking in the Lake District, but most would decorate their minds with portraits of Rufus, Martha, Lucy and Loudon – folk music’s ‘first family’. As well as creating a handful of talented and successful offspring with a couple of equally talented and successful wives, Loudon Wainwright III has spent the majority of his sixty-four years compiling an enormous back-catalogue of heartfelt, autobiographical songs. Tonight he has parked the tour-bus in York and, as well as unloading a portion of that back-catalogue on the stage of the Grand Opera House, he also brings with him the supporting talents of daughter Lucy Wainwright-Roche. Opening the show with a selection of mostly self-penned songs, Lucy demonstrates that the best of her father’s musical genes haven’t all been used up on Rufus and Martha. Unlike much of the music of her half-siblings, Lucy’s own songwriting sits very comfortably alongside her dad’s. Songs such as “Next Best Western”, “The Worst Part” and “Accident & Emergency” are just a few examples of the delicately melodic folk ballads that have been crafted from the raw materials of Lucy’s own life. They’re also just a few reasons why this reviewer can’t help but make comparisons with Nanci Griffith and Iris DeMent – the beginnings of a list of great female singer-songwriters to which Lucy surely belongs. Just as the crowd begin to fall deeply in love with Lucy, her old man marches out on stage to give us a few wise words. Indeed, there is something of the universal father-in-law in Mr Wainwright – he’s been there, he’s done that and now he’s going to tell you how it feels. Luckily, ‘how it feels’ isn’t always as bad as you’d expect. Divorce, fatherhood, getting old and even throwing your guitar on the fire can all have their moments of smirking clarity – “I guess that I’m just ageing like the finest wine and cheeses” Loudon sings in the side-splitting “Shit Song”, proving that there’s lyrical gold buried somewhere in life’s various miseries (“desperation’s the father of invention” he sings in “Bein’ a Dad”, another of tonight’s highlights). Armed with a guitar, a banjo and a baby grand piano, Loudon blows us all away this evening with equal amounts of his inimitable heart and humour, each being delivered with a voice that doesn’t seem to have altered in forty years. One minute you’re plunged into the emotion of “White Winos” – an exquisitely vivid portrait of Loudon’s relationship with his mother – and the next you’re laughing uncontrollably at a doowop-inspired song about the untimely death of a surfing queen. Loudon also teams up with Lucy for a handful of duets during tonight’s performance. For a few stunning moments, father and daughter depart from their own lyrics to give us their rendition of the evergreen Boudleaux Bryant song, “Love Hurts”, complete with the kind of harmonies that would surely fill Lucy’s mum, Suzzy Roche, with pride. At sixty-four, Loudon is as good as he’s ever been and, like the song says, he is, indeed, ageing like the finest wine and cheeses. His latest album Ten Songs for the New Depression is inspired by the recent financial crisis and proves that, while the economy and Mr Wainwright’s hairline struggle to recover from recession, the songs continue to flow like white wine.