Martha Wainwright at the Sydney Opera House

It wasn’t part of the Vivid festival but I somehow found myself back at the Opera House yet again last night. This time it was to see Martha Wainwright. If you don’t know Martha’s background, or understand the source of her musical DNA, read this.


She was incredibly good. Her songs are very personal, with beautiful melodies. Most of her style comes from an acoustic singer-songwriter place. She did play several solo songs, but on the rest her backing band gave her enough scale and oomph to provide some dynamics.

More dynamics came from a couple of Edith Piaf songs in the middle of the set, as well as a guest slot she gave to Brighter Later (who didn’t get to open the night as the Opera House now frowns on this apparently). Plus she gave us her version of Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song”.

Martha is a great live performer: funny and engaging between songs, expressive and full of movement during them. Her vocals are very authentic, just raw enough but with control that comes from both talent and practice. There was banter with her husband (who’s in the band), jokes about brother Rufus, a stage visit from her kid (more show business DNA, it seems), and a discovery that performing lying down is quite comfortable.

Both her parents got appropriate nods: Martha closed her main set with her mother’s last song, the delicate “Proserpina” (the video is below), and finished the encore with a less delicate song about her dad.

She was wacky, endearing, and a musical force. It was an impressive evening.