Last night (4 November, 2008) I witnessed two sets from Martha Wainwright and her support act Angus & Julia Stone that couldn’t be more different. One look at the crowd told me the majority were lefty (I’m one too, before I sound like a fascist!), middle class professionals who were there for Martha first and foremost and who’d probably heard about her through the Observer (heck, an English teacher from my high school was there). However, by the end of Angus & Julia’s set they were clearly won over to their curious alt-folk – and quite right too.
Enchanting ingénues Angus & Julia Stone beguiled the crowd with their pretty folk sound in a set characterised by honest to goodness talent and quiet charm. The elaborately designed domed ceiling of the Oxford Town Hall was beautifully lit and gave the appearance of a fine lace cover over the stage which set off the pair’s delicate and breathy vocal styles perfectly. Julia’s witchy delivery was particularly spellbinding and a new track from Angus which peaked in an angry, rockier chorus was also notable.
It really is astonishing how talented the two are. And how they can put up with each other on the road. I don’t think my brother and I would last a day on a tour bus together! Their backing band are equally gifted.
Guitarist Clay had taught himself drums especially for the tour after their regular drummer was taken sick and he showed himself to be pretty proficient on the old skins. An unecessary apology for any mistakes (none that I could spot) was given before a rumbling and throaty “A Book Like This”, which was the high point of the set for me – that and an old song the siblings had written at band camp some years ago on the hoof which incorporated “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and provoked gentle chuckles from the crowd.
Given their wonderful music, it’s especially striking how shy the pair are – Angus in particular seemed content to hide behind hair and hat and left most of the inter-song banter to sister Julia. I guess they were new to most of the crowd last night but I predict that sales of their album will definitely increase after this tour finishes. I do love them so. “A Book Like This” is definitely one of my favourite albums of 2008 – possibly even my most favourite. They sound and look like they’ve stepped out of your most lovely imaginings and I hope their success builds and sustains over time. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
In contrast to the winsome humility of Angus & Julia, Martha Wainwright was her typical showy self – a presence massively opposed to her support but which was nonetheless compelling. Martha is herself one of famous siblings, and I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched her extravagant gestures and evident pleasure in being on the stage, what teatime at the Wainwrights must have been like with all those performers jostling for attention in one room. School friends must have been made of strong stuff to visit, for sure! The venue’s baroque décor suited Martha’s ostentatious and emotive vocal style perfectly. Boy can that woman belt out some tunes. By the time she got to singing a jazzy number in French, I concluded as a mere mortal, that’s just showing off …! “You Cheated Me” and a closing cover of Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” were my personal highlights although at times an overwrought and bombastic vocal style proved a little too much to take.
Martha’s between song patter was tongue in cheek and a million miles away from her confessional music, and was certainly evidence of her professionalism as well as a charismatic and dramatic personality. Thanking her excellent band and support as well as technicians alike (she rightly pointed out the sound men did wonders in what must have been a tough space to work with), she was slick and classy without sounding insincere. In fact I’d say her patter was refreshingly chipper and much welcome after the emotional gymnastics of her songs.
In all, gold stars are due to both acts. My fondness for Angus & Julia was admittedly my main reason for going and they didn’t disappoint; but credit where it’s due to the main act: Martha gave a set which no one could criticise for being sloppy or indifferent – she’s a born entertainer with a voice that demands to be heard. Now, thank you.
Martha Wainwright Official Website
Angus & Julia Stone Official Website
By: Lindsey Davis