Published Feb 01, 2006Martha Wainwright looks comfortable in the spotlight. Though initially humbled by a tidal wave of applause, she played it sassy from the start, shaking her butt behind her big acoustic guitar throughout set-opener "When the Day Is Short" (making me wonder if she's dating her drummer?) and showing off her home-grown French, speaking next to no English between songs and peppering her banter with good old sacrilegious slang. She also covered Richard Desjardins's "Le Coeur est un Oiseau" and a quasi-French Cole Porter number, along with songs by Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon and the Rolling Stones, but Wainwright's recent debut album, with all its devastating poetry, gorgeous melodies and rock-rebel undercurrents, dominated the set. Though she didn't stray far from the recorded versions, her elastic, emotive vocals never failed to deliver, whether small and wounded or big and robust. Coming from a musical family accustomed to writing revealing lyrics (sometimes about each other), Wainwright can bop around like a cool mama while singing a lyric like, "I have no children / I have no husband / I have no reason to be alive," and still seem genuine while she's doing it. Apart from a short solo stretch, the singer was backed by a quintet (piano, guitar, bass, drums, vocals). There was visible frustration over technical problems, but spirits seemed high during one lengthy guitar switcheroo, the band broke into a funky house jam and (egged on by Wainwright) a cheeseball country tune that they regularly subject her to on the bus. As for her more immediate family, cousin Lily Lanken sang backup throughout and her mother, Kate McGarrigle, made a cameo on piano. And Rufus? Martha said, "He really wanted to be here tonight or maybe not." Un-frickin'-believable. After supporting her brother for years as a backup singer, now that she finally has her turn in the spotlight (her album was a long time coming), the guy can't return the favour? For shame. Perhaps there'll be a little Molotov cocktail about brotherly love on her next record.