Loudon Wainwright III has been a constant fixture in my music collection since 1972, pre and post “Dead Skunk.” Once hailed as one of the “New Dylan’s” along with Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Jesse Winchester and others, Loudon has remained the same throughout all the changes in music over four decades – a sarcastic, sometime misogynist, but seldom wrong in his observations – singer songwriter with a clear vision of what he wants to say in his music. This total honesty has cost him three marriages and difficult relationships with family and friends but he has remained true to himself.
In my decade of living in NYC proper (i.e., not upstate), I have rarely paid money for a concert or a performance. I don’t mean to sound like a musical snob or cheapskate but who can afford the prices of even the up and coming acts much less the superstars. I have been lucky enough, thanks to my wide and varied past, to get on the guest list of those I most wanted to see. I worked with Loudon a couple of times in the past and probably have gotten a ticket but this seemed like one of those shows I just had to pay to appreciate it more. I was not wrong.
It was only a couple of days before that I saw the mention of the show in the Village Voice “choices” section. I hurried down to the box office and was lucky to get a single ticket in the balcony and avoid extra charges (take that Ticketbastards!). Loudon would be a big draw by himself in NYC but with the addition of son Rufus and daughter Martha, and various other Wainwrights and friends, the show was a guaranteed sell-out. Any seat in the Town Hall is good so I was happy and also lucky enough to sit next to a couple of flew in from Vancouver for the show – they were there for Rufus and not familiar with his dad. I did my best to educate them before the lights came down but when the lights came up, they were converted.
Opening with his accapella “Earth and Sky”, Loudon proceeded to entertain with his songs from his latest release, “Older Than My Old Man Now”. He explained that he wrote it after realizing he was a year older than his dad, noted journalist Loudon Wainwright II, when he died. The songs were as personal as ever and even deeper than most of his open-veined catalog but LW never let the mood get too dark. He threw in a couple of songs from his recent tribute to country/folk pioneer Charlie Poole and a smattering of his older material but the bulk of the show was arranged so that he would call a guest from the wings for a duet and then he would leave them alone for one or two songs. It was a sign of a great and appreciative audience that even the lesser-known Wainwrights were granted the respect of Rufus and Martha. Not one of the guests attempted to upstage the old man and they each seemed thrilled to be a part of the show.
David Carr of the New York Times reviewed the show and began the article/family interview with:
“WHEN most families fight, as most families do, you might hear about it over the back fence or see a stray post on Facebook. When the Wainwrights get into it, the spat often shows up in a full-blown song, which begets other songs.”
None of the song-inspiring spats was evident this night – except for a great line in one of Loudon’s new songs, “In C”:
“And if families didn’t break apart, I suppose there’d be no need for art.”
I suppose there will be more Wainwright reunions in the future, we can only hope, but I am glad to have been there for the experience and not left to read the review in the Times.
It was worth the 50 bucks.