mon 15/07/2024

Martha Wainwright & Ed Harcourt, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Martha Wainwright & Ed Harcourt, Roundhouse

Martha Wainwright & Ed Harcourt, Roundhouse

A captivating set from the Canadian chanteuse and her songwriting partner

Ed & Martha's gift of lyrical poetry in a serene settingJohn Williams

The creative partnership between Ed Harcourt and Martha Wainwright is an intriguing one. He is an out and out showman, full of stage presence, bravado and tinged with thespiness. She is an introverted, quirky creative, flanked by the comfort of a full band. But there's no doubting that together they make beautiful music.

Their songs, whether independent or duet, trip through the lyrical poetry of tender ballads, rousing guitar riffs, cloudy folk and abstract punk tunes with a touch of vintage jazz. Bathed in the soft, warm lights and before an intimate audience at the Roundhouse, the experience is enveloping and authentic, allowing a glimpse into the creative make-up of someone who's existed forever in a bubble of musical genius and freedom.

There's something gloriously louche in this intimate musical get-together

Harcourt is like a modern-day troubador, recording and layering his playing of the keyboard, guitar and drums then singing over the top, chatting brusquely in between numbers like "Occupational Hazard", "Furnaces" and "Velvet and Gold" that you can feel yourself falling into. Wainwright by comparison is nervy, shy, throwing her head back as she speaks, like a nervous tick. The comparison between her timidity at talking and fully losing herself in the music, where she finds her comfort zone in the signature pendulum range and intense long-holds of a truly unique vocal style, is striking.

Singing tracks from her latest album, Goodnight City, Wainwright alludes to the creative suite that is her life, a conglomeration of friends and family who have written or helped to write various tracks. She mimics her brother, Rufus Wainwright, with a cartoon voice saying, "That's not actually what he sounds like...", messes up one of family friend Leonard Cohen's tracks ("Chelsea Hotel #2"), and talks us through a delightful ditty about her son, "Francine", quipping, "It's nice to write about people you can't shit on.../ Just wait 'til they're teenagers, though." She wonders if her collaborators' money and fame will rub off on her, urging the audience to "just buy the fucking record." 

I feel like they probably will, heady as they are on her ability to draw you into a poetic narrative, grinding her hips with dance-like theatricality against her guitar, flicking her leg up as she goes, or drunk on the beguiling way she slips into French, sharing a cheeky joke or letting you into her personal secrets. There's something gloriously louche in this intimate musical get-together, with one or the other roughly kicking off and re-beginning songs, asking "Shall I just start this?" Even after 10 years since the first album, a lifetime of musical collaboration and whatever's gone before, there is a sense that Wainwright has and always will have, a knack for new beginnings.


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