Concert Review

Loudon Wainwright's show takes audience for a stroll in his shoes

The Globe and Mail

Loudon Wainwright III parlays common personal events and foibles into wry song. (Ross Halfin/Ross Halfin)

Loudon Wainwright III

  • at Hugh's Room
  • in Toronto on Wednesday

He walked a mile in a dead man's shoes, and lives to sing about it. Loudon Wainwright III, a troubadour who parlays common personal events and foibles into wry song, looked over his audience as if peering into a mirror. "I know my demographic," said the 64-year-old, in gregarious form. He then mugged his way through a song about the various prescription drugs he uses, asking afterward, "You didn't know death and decay could be so much fun, did you?"

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His audience would have had an idea. At Hugh's Room, Wainwright laughed with (but not at) mortality, and also reflected on family - which is to say he sang about life, as he always has. The graveyard-whistler with a new box set coming ( 40 Odd Years) favoured fresh material. And if much of it was droll, he did steer clear of the Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road - his novelty hit from 1972. Here's some of what he did instead:

Deadman: A slow, brooder about going through his late father's closet and seeing what fit. "I got a dead man's watch, ain't no big crime" Wainwright sang, no smile, "because I ain't dead yet, I got a little more time."

Another Song in C: Wainwright was serviceable on piano for a pair of songs that included a sorrowful melodic number about his "favourite protagonist, me." In his straining, clear and recognizable tenor, Wainwright told of a family - Wainwright with the late folk-singer Kate McGarrigle had two musician children, Rufus and Martha - that broke apart. "The children we had are grown, they're out fending off the great unknown / and I've noticed they're a bit like me, with a tendency to sing in C."

All in the Family: Wainwright spoke of recently being with his two grandchildren, including Viva, the infant daughter of Rufus. "Isn't modern science wonderful," he joked, a reference to the openly gay Rufus's "miracle" fatherhood. All jokes aside, a spryly strummed pastoral tune advised to "forgive, forget and finally see, the forest from the family tree."

High Wide & Handsome: From 2009's Grammy-winning High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project, a conceptual album about a high-living, Depression-era banjo songster with whom Wainwright clearly identifies. The ditty is upbeat and friendly: "Let's live it up, might as well, we're all dying / high, wide and handsome, let's put on a show." Poole died young; Wainwright did not. The show goes on.



Loudon Wainwright III plays again on Thursday at Toronto's Hugh's Room (416-531-6604).

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