Loudon Wainwright III may very well be the most solipsistic performer in the history of recorded music. For over forty odd years, Loudon has strummed on guitars and sang about his favorite subject – Loudon Wainwright III. It’s a pretty simple concept – he sings about his hopes, dreams, failures, pain, family angst, failed relationships, mortality, his dog, etc., and hopefully the listener can relate. More literal and grounded than anyone else in the singer/songwriter tradition, despite his ego, his music is often brilliant.
Having delivered another excellent album in 2012, a mortality concept piece titled “Older Than My Old Man Now,” Wainwright came to Dallas on 8 August to deliver a solo/acoustic set. Wainwright’s performances are uneven affairs. The last time I saw him, in 2008 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I left the show early due to his temperamental crankiness. When you walk the fine line between high strung/neurotic artist and folksy, affable (one man) guy next door, sometimes you err on the wrong side.
Loudon was in fine form for this show, with most of the material coming from either recently released albums or unreleased songs. In one sense, it is refreshing to see an established performer who doesn’t rely on his substantive backlog of work to carry a performance. However, many better songs could have been played that would have fit thematically (with Loudon’s new “death and decay” material); omitting possibilities like “A Father and A Son” and “Donations” was a disservice to the audience.
Wainwright has an odd stage presence, alone with his guitar, punctuating lines with his intensely painful looking grimacing, wagging tongue, and knee jerking left leg. Aspiring talent show performers should not use Wainwright for a role model. Even though he is a more than capable guitarist, Wainwright’s material is solely focused on his lyrical content. Throughout the set, Wainwright interspersed readings from several of his father’s columns in "Life" magazine. While Wainwright often sings about his family relationships as having war like qualities, his respect for his father’s talent was palpable.
You are going to get your fair share of laughs at a Wainwright gig. Comical highlights for the evening included the guidance on how older men can meet women “Man with a Dog in the City” and the humor through pain traveling experience of “Unfriendly Skies.” The emotionally dependent “You Can’t Fail Me Now,” recently covered by Bonnie Raitt, was adeptly performed. After performing “10” from the new record, Wainwright sang “School Days,” taking an audience request. The juxtaposition between his age and current material and “School Days,” the lead track from his first album released in 1970, was jarring. One can only wonder what the confident, talented singer thought his career and life would be like when that album was released and how different it may have turned out from those expectations.
One can’t quibble too much about a show that includes material as strong as the Loudon lineage “Half Fist,” the dysfunctional “All in the Family,” Peter Blegvad’s “Daughter” (which moved me to tears – thanks a lot, Tori Crawford), and the should I laugh or cringe Oedipus complex “White Winos.” Artistically, it will be interesting to see where Loudon goes next, having explored failed relationships, family dysfunction, and now death and decay to what should be their final resting place. He did mention that he has two young grandchildren now. Can a children’s album be on the horizon? Sign me up for “Loudon Croons to kindergarteners".
The Here and the Now
Guilty Conscience and a Broken Heart
Older Than My Old Man Now
Over the Hill
Man with a Dog in the City
You Can’t Fail Me Now
All in a Family
The Idea of Us
Bein’ a Dad
Your Mother and I
Say You Love Me
The Days That We Die
Something’s Out to Get Me