Live Review: Martha Wainwright, Oh Pep!

24 March 2017 | 11:59 am | Lucille Cutting

"Martha Wainwright was instantly engaging."

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Martha Wainwright soared in an intimate show at the Theatre Royal in Hobart and was kind enough to take her audience along for the ride. 

Support act Oh Pep!, a Melbourne-based folk two-piece, were the perfect accompaniment to Wainwright's emotionally fuelled performance. The duo opted for a stripped-back performance, sans backing band, and took the audience on a musical journey peppered with stories about life on the road. Among tales of eating cold baked beans straight from the can and hospital trips, Oh Pep! diligently delivered popular tracks such as Doctor Doctor and Wanting. The combination of instrumental skill, Olivia Hally's textured and steady vocals, and their beautiful lyricism proved Oh Pep! a worthy entree to the main.

Martha Wainwright was instantly engaging. Stepping onto the stage in an authentic 1970s T-shirt emblazoned with the words 'Rufus Is A Tit Man' — a reference to a song written by Wainwright's father about her older brother — Wainwright performed tracks from her newest release Goodnight City and older hits such as Far Away, When The Day Is Short and Bleeding All Over You. Wainwright shared insights into the creation of new tracks Franci, a tribute to her younger son, and Window, written because her oldest son noticed two tracks had been dedicated to the younger.

Wainwright was captivating in her honesty, skill and sound. There was a certain wild abandon in the performance, coupled with just enough restrain. Wainwright's band, while not enthralling, were a perfect match for the singer's intensity. When Wainwright gripped and pulled her hair mid-song, her band continued almost imperceptibly in the background — allowing the audience to maintain focus on Wainwright centre stage. 

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The new album is, in some ways, an ode to the formation and loss of love. Wainwright's love song to her husband, Before The Children Came Along, explores the ups and downs of a relationship, while Traveller is about a friend who died of cancer. The combination of old and new music showed Wainwright's maturation as a performer who sings from experience.

Watching Wainwright perform was a reiteration in itself as to why the singer has been able to return to Tasmania again and again. Her willingness to perform favourite tracks, coupled with a quality performance and good-humoured banter, is a perfect combination. It was no surprise that the audience continued to clap 'til the lights turned on, even after an encore performance by Wainwright and the full band. Tasmanian audiences want Wainwright, and luckily, Wainwright is willing to do the extra miles for her island listeners.