WEB EXCLUSIVE: Martin, Wainwright deliver candid shows at Beachland Tavern

Andrew Hampp

Sometimes all a woman wants is to be heard. Singer-songwriters Charlotte Martin and Martha Wainwright both made this abundantly clear at their respective shows at the Beachland Tavern last week.

Martin, a 28-year-old piano whiz in the vein of Tori Amos, was a mere three songs into her hour-long set when she paused the proceedings to ask a nearby couple to please save their chatter for in-between songs. Then, just as Martin was about to play the appropriately titled, “Uncomfortable Things,” a seemingly drunk, older fan cried out, “Oh, please!” as if he didn’t want to hear what the blonde piano songstress was about to play.

While Martin politely took her rude patron in stride, Wainwright was hilariously candid in taking her talkative fans to task.

“I’m really tired,” the 28-year-old sister of Rufus and daughter of Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle told the crowd. Having just come off a string of back-to-back shows, including one the previous night in Pittsburgh, Wainwright defended her behavior by saying, “And when I get really tired, I just get bitchy.”

Crowd distractions aside, both performers delivered impressive sets that stood as testaments to their mutual media hype. Martin played a handful of favorites from her RCA debut On Your Shore, including the sweeping title track and “Steel,” in which she proclaims her emotional immunity in the wake of tragic experiences.

Martin performed all the songs on an electric piano with her trademark intensity, bringing boyfriend Ken Andrews on stage to play guitar on three songs, including the single “Every Time It Rains.” The set was solid, and even included a stripped-down cover of Snow Patrol’s “Chocolate,” but was still lacking a few of her showstopping live regulars.

Martin’s killer rendition of “Wild Horses,” for example, was notably absent to this reporter, who has seen her rip into the Rolling Stones classic with added intensity following the recent death of her aunt. Martin instead played two songs from her piano-based Darkest Hour EP, sold exclusively on her summer tour, and a few numbers from her efforts prior to Shore. But the majority of such songs’ exclusion was likely due to the exceedingly hot weather, which flared Martin’s allergies and caused her to suck on a Ricola for her set’s first half.

Martha Wainwright also drew extensively from her back catalog for her nearly 90-minute set, playing favorites from her self-titled debut as well as selections from her EPs and a few unreleased tracks. On her CDs, the fiery folk singer sings with a ferocity reminiscent of her contemporaries Ani DiFranco and Patty Griffin. But live, Wainwright settled for a merely pleasant sounding vocal delivery that merely trilled and cooed over notes in a tone that lacked focus.

Perhaps if Wainwright hadn’t been so burnt out from playing continuous shows she would have brought the house down on “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” a literal f-you to her famous father and to all the other men who’ve wronged her. On record, the song is a powerfully sung anthem for a woman scorned, but Wainwright practically rushed through it during last Tuesday’s performance, not even bothering to emphasize the song’s most biting lyrics.

She did, however, excel in offering plenty of soundbites to her attentive audience, which nearly filled the Tavern. Wainwright shared stories about standing her ground when labels wanted her to go pop before they signed her and about her globe-trotting brother Rufus and Leonard Cohen, who she covered that night. “I’m in Cleveland,” Wainwright said in between puffs of a cigarette she bummed off an audience member. “I figure I can say what I want and no one will find out.”

While that may prove to be true, the Beachland Tavern was a great place to catch both engaging ladies despite the fact that each performer was decidedly having an off-night. But heck, Britney Spears would kill to sound like Charlotte Martin with a sore throat. Perhaps when she’s playing the Beachland Tavern 10 years down the road, she’ll ask for a cough drop, too.

Contact pop arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].