Loudon Wainwright III is one of those confessional singers that riffs through his catalogue of warts with brutal honesty and the audience at the Arden Theatre on Wednesday night lapped up his every word.
With a guitar strapped across his shoulder, the solo performer was completely at ease singing about his specialty – dysfunctional relationships. He described his favourite topics as “shitty love and death and decay,” and the unexpected bluntness cracked the audience up.
While on the surface the songs seem dark and depressing, Wainwright delivers painful honesty with an equal dollop of quirkiness, sarcasm and bawdy humour.
A masterful showman, he sings his unique brand of tongue-in-cheek folksy blues lathered in mischief. Note how his eyes twinkle and his face masterfully contorts into a clownish expression.
But the release of emotions was powerful and the audience hung on to every word as Wainwright reflected on his personal ordeals. Although the start of the two-hour concert was limp, his array of incredibly funny, sad and poignant stories improved like fine wine.
Wainwright sang a surprising number of tunes about family: The First Loudon tells of a violent grandfather trapped in his life and Dead Man’s Closet, a surreal, heartfelt work was penned after his father’s death.
The Long Island-based singer spiralled into a deep depression after his mother’s death and in an ode to her played the sad White Winos. Although Wainwright’s relationship with his children has at times been volatile, My Daughter relayed an unexpected tenderness.
From this latest album release, 10 Songs for the New Depression, this prolific singer/songwriter gave us Times is Hard and Middle of the Night, both a hopeful testament to America’s flat economy.
My Meds was instead a hilarious, sock-it-to-’em poke on old age, and The Drinking Song that promises beer, smokes and sex served in heaven brought on roars of approval.
Now normally, I’m not too keen on hearing the word ‘bitch,’ repeated through a song. But the unnamed song about Susie, a baggage handler at Durango Airport who destroyed his guitar, had me laughing helplessly along with everyone else. Anyone involved in an airport fiasco has probably met a Susie and this one got her just desserts.
The weathered voice has survived over 40 years of endless touring and it hasn’t dulled his edge a bit. If anything there’s a devil-may-care appeal that’s sharper and funnier than ever.
Loudon Wainwright III
Wednesday, Jan 26