That Wainwright clan has a thing for covering other divas. After brother Rufus took his Judy Garland idea to Carnegie Hall, younger sis Martha
would be hard-pressed to find a suitable chanteuse to trump such a
publicity perfect performance. But she’s managed to do it with her
decision to perform chansons of Edith Piaf, who has rocketed to new
fame amongst the youthful due to the incredible performance of Marion
Cotillard in La Vie en Rose.
Last night Martha Wainwright performed 15 songs, mostly Piaf’s, as well
as a couple of other French-language songs with her mother and aunt, Kate and Anne McGarrigle. She also invited her big brother Rufus Wainwright to play piano for a Josephine Baker song.
It felt something like a semi-professional dress rehearsal, Martha
joked that they’d only started to rehearse the day before, and she had
failed to memorize the Piaf songs, relying on printed lyrics that she
stared at constantly and would whip through during songs, letting the
pages fall to the floor.
After stumping her first album for years and then releasing a
disappointing sophomore disc this year, it was great to see Martha
excel with someone else’s songs. In fact, one guy in the audience also
felt she was usually better singing other’s work rather than her own.
"It contains her passion better."
Most of the Little Sparrow’s songs she picked were not the canonical
tunes— "L’Accordioniste" and "La Foule" were perhaps the more
recognizable—rather she sang more obscure songs from the oeuvre,
including a rousing "Les Blouses Blanches" and "C’est Toujours" (with
clarinet accompaniment). She mentioned this was an idea someone had
proposed, with the intention that she would record a full album of
songs, so they were trying them out. I was unsure what an audience of
mostly 30-40-year-olds would think of a concert completely in French.
Especially the native speakers. I asked two Frenchies who were standing
behind me named Guilhen and Sylvain. They admitted that they were not
diehard Edith Piaf fans, but that it was impossible to escape back home
and the movie had revived their interest. They thought Martha sounded
great, that her accent and enunciation were perfect and they enjoyed
the songs, although they wre not familiar with many of them.
"She’s as crazy as Edith Piaf," remarked Sylvain.
Photos by Guillem Clua.