Canadian-Americana comes to the Tramshed tonight as Martha Wainwright is in town. Born into a family of troubadours and creatives, she was destined to wear it on her sleeve, and her quintessentially American folk-pop sounds great in this venue, even when performing tracks from her most recent release Love Will Be Reborn, an album inspired in her own words by divorce and custody. It’s certainly heavy material for her, but handled by her seemingly cheeky and Karen Dalton-esque vocals it comes across as both melancholic and triumphant.
The opening act Bernice, though conveniently being her backing band, deliver more than a glorified soundcheck as they paint the Tramshed in reverb and chamber-pop. There is an intimacy with their instruments as they weave around swooshing and jangly noises and soundscapes.
Martha is confessional, vulnerable yet happy. Telling us about the contrasts of the evening’s music – “one cheerful one has to be followed by a sad one, that’s how it works” – she intertwines the setlist with stories of divorce and children, clearly topics that she has found herself fully absorbed in after her 2018 split. She talks about having to endure so much in life whilst only being 45, like it’s a test of sheer mortal stamina to make it to that age.
New album track Report Card is a standout, as is a piano-led rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2 and a surprise performance of arguably her most popular track, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. She understands the microphone, utilising it as an instrument as much as her own voice which is strong tonight.
The music was tense and stripped down, and the band themselves seemed reserved compared to their opening performance. Sure, it’s Martha’s show, but the music seemed to take a step back as her songs were performed as bare-boned Americana renditions compared to their brighter album takes. Stories aside, she can offer more from her music than this – which may have been deliberate, given her most recent output.
Tramshed, Cardiff, Sun 26 Sept
words JOE PRESCOTT
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