Powerful lyricist performs satirical folk songs
It was yet another sold out performance at Landmark on Main Street on Saturday, March 5, as the legendary Loudon Wainwright III took to the stage to deliver a dynamic one-man show. There are performers who can move you to tears, and those who can make you laugh, but rarely can one artist do both, simultaneously. Loudon Wainwright can.
From his first song – “Moving Day,” Charlie Poole’s depression-era ode to not being able to pay the rent, to his last song, the ridiculous yet impressively catchy “Dead Skunk,” – Wainwright provided a full-out, no holds barred, completely out-there performance. Looking like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicolson, Wainwright used his entire body to perform – his foot stomped, his tongue wagged, he made extraordinary faces – you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.
Wainwright performed primarily on the guitar, with a few notable exceptions. He played “High, Wide, and Handsome,” the title track from his Charlie Poole Project CD on the banjo, and he performed two songs, “Red Guitar” and “Another Song in C” on piano. Let’s be clear about this – Wainwright is not a pianist. His instrument is definitely the guitar. Yet despite his lack of piano chops, those two songs were perhaps the most poignant in the set. Particularly “Another Song in C” which managed to be funny with lyrics like “Here’s another song in C, when I play piano it’s my key.” But it swiftly turns into a personal account of his childhood, his breakup with ex-wife, the now deceased singer/songwriter Kate McGarrigle, and his relationship with his children. “Here’s another song in C, with my favorite protagonist – me.” It ends with lyrics that sum up a lot of what makes Wainwright the performer he is – “If families didn’t break apart, I suppose there’d be no need for art.”
Family is a recurrent theme in Wainwright’s music. He covers the gamut from singing about his children from his marriage to McGarrigle (the musicians Rufus and Martha Wainwright), to writing a song based on letters from his grandfather to his grandmother when they were courting (“Rowena”). Funny, but sad, was “White Winos,” a song about his mother’s drinking. And truly gut-wrenching was the song “Your Mother and I” – sung as a parent to his child, explaining the logistics of his divorce – “Your mother and I are living apart; I know it seems stupid but we weren’t very smart. You’ll stay with her. I’ll visit you. At Christmas, on weekends, in summertime too….” Wainwright doesn’t flinch at singing things for an audience that most of us would prefer to keep buried. Maybe it’s a sort of therapy.
But it certainly wasn’t all heavy. The Landmark audience seemed to especially enjoy Wainwright’s Tom Lehrer-esque parody of pharmaceuticals – “My Meds.” In it, he wittily mocks all the medications he’s on, much to the audience’s delight. “I know who my demographic is,” Wainwright told the packed house after the song. “I’m always shocked when I see them, but I know who they are.”
Wainwright also played some songs from his latest CD – “10 Songs for The New Depression.” Particularly good were the satirical “The Krugman Blues” about The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and “House,” an ode to the miserable real estate market and why a couple should remain together because “we can’t sell our house.”
The audience was particularly vocal – calling out requests and comments, many of which Wainwright responded to. (He did not, however, respond to the person calling out “Freebird” just after the encore.) After the show, Wainwright, who lives in Suffolk County, stuck around to autograph CDs and pose with fans. It was a wonderful show by a talented eccentric who wasn’t afraid to “let it all hang out.”
The next concert in the Landmark Folk Series will be Suzzy & Maggie Roche, with special guest Julie Gold on May 14.