Review by Greg Haymes
“I don’t know what all of this fighting is for;
But we’re having us a teenage/middle-age war.
I don’t want to die and you want to live;
It takes a little bit of take and a whole lot of give.
It never really ends though each race is run,
This thing between a father and a son.
Maybe it’s power and push and shove,
Maybe it’s hate but probably it’s love,
Maybe it’s hate but probably it’s love.”
– “A Father and a Son,” Loudon Wainwright III
At The Egg on Friday night (January 25), Loudon Wainwright III sang about himself and his family, as he’s done for most of his 40-year career. In fact, you could say that singing about failed and flawed family relationships is his career.
“I’ve got some family songs for you,” he said, drawing chuckles for stating the obvious.
This time around the focus was squarely on his relationship with his father, a longtime columnist for Life magazine. No surprise considering that Wainwright’s latest album Older Than My Old Man Now finds Wainwright reflecting on his own mortality now that he’s older than his father was when he passed away in 1988 at the age of 63.
“Yes, the father thing is a big motif for me,” he said. “He was hung up about the same shit I am.”
The father-son relationship was examined in songs that ranged from “Surviving Twin” early in the show to the encore of “A Father and a Son,” but what really made Wainwright’s 90-minute performance so special was the fact that he incorporated readings of several of his father’s “The View From Here” columns into the show. The matching of LWIII’s literate songs with the elegant (and eloquent) readings of LWII made for a fascinating juxtaposition that seemed to enrich them both.
In fact the performance had such deep resonance that it seemed as though Wainwright was likely working out the kinks in a work-in-progress one-man theatrical show. This seemed like a particularly strong possibility when LWIII recited from memory a lengthy and very moving column about the life and death of the family dog, John Henry, rather than reading it from his iPad as he had done for his readings earlier in the evening.
While paternal reflections were at the core of the show, LWIII also sang about other family members, including his mother (“White Winos”), his son Rufus (the back-to-back pairing of “Dilated to Meet You” about his birth, and the new “The Idea of Us” written for his wedding last year) and his ex-wife, the late Kate McGarrigle (“Over the Hill” which according to LWIII, “It’s the one song that we wrote together. The rest of the time we were trying to kill each other”).
But the a tour de force performance (and his only turn at the grand piano) was “In C,” a classic LWIII family ode in which he reserves his most scathing indictments for his own failings. “If families didn’t break apart, I suppose there’d be no need for art,” he sang.
“Here is another song in C
With my favorite protagonist – me
Of my little world talent show
I sing all about it so you will know”
– “In C,” Loudon Wainwright III
He tossed in a few off-beat humorous songs (the pharmaceutical fantasia “My Meds” and a wry song about alternate side of the street parking), a haunting panhandler’s ballad, an excoriating anti-gun anthem (“I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas” in honor of the gun show being set up downstairs in the Empire State Plaza Convention Hall), a request for an old favorite (“Swimming Song”) and a couple of covers by old pal singer-songwriters (Peter Blegvad’s “Daughters” and George Gerdes’ “The Party”).
In related matters, Suzzy Roche (Loudon’s ex) and Lucy Wainwright Roche (Loudon & Suzzy’s daughter) team up for a performance at The Egg at 7:30pm on Friday, February 15. Rob Morsberger (no known relation to Loudon) opens the show. Tickets are $24.
Opening the show were the Nields, the sister duo of Katryna and Nerissa Nields, who showcased selections from their latest album The Full Catastrophe during their folksy six-song, 35-minute set. But they were at their best when they stepped away from the microphones for an unamplified performance of “Easy People from their 1998 album Play.
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The audience, which filled maybe two-thirds of the venue, responded with nearly continuous laughter (even during moments that weren’t really all that funny). Wainwright took the stage just before 9 p.m. and set the mood early on with the opening number, a treatise on growing old as a ‘dance craze.’ ‘Surviving Twin’ was an early highlight, one of the first songs he performed dealing with his father, though it wouldn’t be the last. The title track from the new album came up immediately afterwards, drawing knowing applause. Throughout, Wainwright somehow seemed both relaxed and intense, joking between songs only to grimace in almost painful concentration while playing.”
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III SET LIST
Brand New Dance???
The Party (George Gerdes/Mark Johnson)
Older Than My Old Man Now
Over the Hill
I Know You’re in a Hurry???
Dilated to Meet You
The Idea of Us
Man With a Dog in the City???
Daughter (Peter Blegvad)
I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas
A Father and a Son
THE NIELDS SET LIST
Back at the Fruit Tree
Which Side Are You On?
Best Black Dress
The Number One Reason Parents Are Cranky