Loudon Wainwright III has a lot on his mind
Hugh’s Room, Toronto, Wednesday, May 2nd
It would appear that 65-year old Loudon Wainwright III has a lot on his mind. In fact, the title of his latest release, Older Than My Old Man Now, tips the hat that he’s slightly fixated on death and decay. This comes with aging.
Yet, Loudon is now – and always has been – far from a-molderin’ in his grave. There’s too much going on in his personal life and far too much left to observe and complain about – seemingly reveling in mankind’s continual downward slide.
Few singer-songwriters subject themselves to so much scrutiny and, on occasion, self-mutilation. He does it in fun but his razor-sharp arsenal of tools blur the lines between irony and sarcasm with each satirical, often cynical, observation on life.
The fact that he has made every aspect of his own life and times so public through his work surely works some therapeutic wonder. If nothing else, he’s damned funny. Acid-tongued and acerbic – but very funny.
Touring his latest masterwork, , Wainwright clearly relishes the bonus time he’s got left. This 15-track exercise in stand-up comedy would suffice based on its lyrics alone – yet Loudon is a master entertainer and his understated guitar-playing and gift for a hook turns the singer-songwriter category on its ear. He delivers, live, more than anyone might expect and the storytelling that glues the set-list together is, alone, worth the price of admission.
As much as this release embraces all the touchstones of the over 60-set, so much of its content filters down from his too-personal diary, involving many of the members of his infamous family – many of whom were involved in its recording. From his late, ex-wife Kate comes a co-write on “Over The Hill” as daughter Martha contributes vocals while, despite the much-publicized rift between he and son Rufus, the two came together for “The Days That We Die” as if they were family.
And that’s the other side of this coin. Loudon may fear following in his father’s final footsteps but, as messed up as they all appear to be, Loudon holds his family close – as if this life depended on it. He’s never been shy about admitting his mistakes. Thankfully, it’s become his most endearing quality.
It doesn’t get more naked than Loudon, alone, on a stage. Amidst his arsenal of Eastwood winces, head shakes and tongue-curls, he strips each song to its skeletal beginnings, leaning on his guitar to dazzle between each witty stanza.
Beginning with the borderline funky “The Here & The Now”, Loudon’s stripped down version highlights its autobiographical nature – wherein his entire life is squeezed into its 3:44 length. Suffering from slight overselling, Wainwright took some time to secure the room yet, like any talented comedian, it’s simply a matter of reorganizing one’s best material.
A world premiere of “Haven’t Got The Blues Yet” segued into the fast-paced, hilarious “Double Lifetime”, originally recorded with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The title track, which featured some exceptional guitar-picking, was prefaced by Wainwright’s summation of his life’s work: the 70s and 80s were all about chronicling “shitty relationships” while his focus now is on “death and decay”.
His unreleased, morgue-friendly “A Guilty Conscience and a Broken Heart” proved a side-splitter joined by an equally funny song about city life, “Man & Dog”. Two tracks from his last release, 10 Songs for the New Depression altered the mood somewhat until a Liberace moment drove him to the piano for a few songs, most notably the lovely “In C”.
The evening also addressed the many requests tossed his way – “Five Years Old” became a singalong while “Be Careful, There’s A Baby In The House” and the gut-ripping “Hardy Boys At The Y” proved favourites. His take on “I Remember Sex” hit a nerve, albeit a funny one, while a slowed down, serious version of “April Fool’s Day Morn” hit its bittersweet, beautiful mark.
From laughing ‘til you cry and crying ‘til you need to laugh, Wainwright is a master of the mood swing. At the same time, he packs a lot of evening into one tiny stage. And whether he dips back into “Red Guitar” or “Motel Blues” or moves things forward with the haunting “Something’s Out To Get Me” or the fall-down hilarity of “My Meds”, Loudon has consistently delivered beyond “the new Dylan” tag that dogged his early career.
Here’s hoping he gets to be a pallbearer. The last laugh will be his.
Photography: E. Thom