Music review: Loudon Wainwright III, Royal Festival Hall, London


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The Independent Culture

Despite tonight being predominantly a solo show – no mean feat in the Southbank Centre’s grandest auditorium - an extra presence hovers over proceedings and at times seems to possess the lanky figure before us. As he performs his own folksy confessionals, Loudon Wainwright III is all twitches and gurns, left leg bouncing awkwardly and tongue shooting out.

Yet when this veteran American singer/songwriter reads his father’s writing, a confident calm allows him to stride purposefully or occupy the plush armchair behind. As the title of last year’s album announced, Loudon is now Older Than My Old Man Now, causing an intense bout of soul-searching that continues to inform his live repertoire. It certainly makes a change from analysing relationships with his own kids (successful musicians Rufus and Martha among them), though they, too, are never far from his mind.

Wainwright Jnr was a columnist for Life magazine and rereading Dad’s work, Loudon recognised, as he says this evening, both were “hung up about the same things”. So he recites several of the journalist’s homilies before performing a number seamlessly carrying on the theme, suggesting that a deft way with words could be hereditary. Some of Loudon’s strongest material is among his most recent, notably his single foray to the piano for ‘In C’ where he finds the right balance between wry humour and self-laceration.

When he emerged in the early seventies, Loudon was tipped as the “new Dylan”, though generous audience chuckles hint they see him as a Tom Lehrer meets Woody Allen character, mixing witty rhymes with therapy-speak. The audience cheer both his humour – the coarser the better, as on “I Remember Sex” – and detailed memoir. As the likes of ‘Surviving Twin’ prove, Dad has long been a source of lyrical inspiration. Away from his family, Loudon relies often on broad pastiche, anything from blues to country that show off his range on guitar.

As a broader social commentator, imagining what beggars think of salarymen, this regular Southbank visitor sounds mawkish, though he can always use kin in a more direct way. Another daughter, support act Lucy Wainwright Roche, provides her own sweet vocal to complement his wizened delivery, most winningly on ‘You Can’t Fail Me Now’. Still, their most touching moment together comes from Dad’s current record as the pair trade verses on ‘All In A  Family’, Loudon keeping the song’s most telling line: “No one wins in a family war”.