Live review: Martha Wainwright @ Colston Hall, Bristol, October 23rd 2008

‘Striding the blast’ is a phrase that I’ve never understood. It creates a definite image though, and one that could well describe Martha Wainwright in full swing. In killer heels and self-described “Halloween hair” she owned the stage and let us know it – not just a singer-songwriter, but an entertainer.

By far the most entertaining point of the evening, although perhaps not for the backstage guys, was the electric meter running out and no one putting a quid in for a good five minutes. In the dark and gloom of Colston hall, lit only by a few dim emergency lights, Wainwright serenaded the crowd with a few acoustic numbers. It’s a rare occurrence to hear a singer’s actual voice but everyone in the hall heard it then, soft and pure and, dare I say it, beautiful – all the way to the back. Extraordinary. Even Wainwright herself seemed pleased and had the mics turned off for ‘I wish I were’ later in the show.

Another unpredictable turn was the introduction of Martha’s cousins’ band Mitten Strings halfway through her set for a quick turn. Indulgence? Certainly. Enjoyable? Not hugely.

With support from the aptly named ‘Dull Insipid Brother-sister Act from Sydney’ (or, Angus and Julia Stone) the evening started slowly. More disappointing was the large number of empty seats. All of this may partly explain the ‘going-through-the-motions’ feeling that the evening sometimes had. Wainwright herself seemed to acknowledge this when she complained of not sleeping in a hotel for 10 nights (which also explained the hair). Despite the tour bus taking its toll, the evening was never less than professional, even if that’s not the greatest of compliments. Often, though, Martha’s powerful, tuneful, emotional voice strode a longer blast than that.

Words: Paul Malloy