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Loudon Wainwright III At the Town Hall, Friday, May 18th, 2012

Fathers and sons in a battle for wife and mother? An old story, right? And something Loudon Wainwright III would seem to know a thing or two about. Or definitely, a lot more than he knows about thanatology.

At the Town Hall Saturday night, it was a father son moment that changed the set from another set with way too much from the new album, into an event. After dueting with his father, Rufus Wainwright, strolled through he foliage to his piano and sang his masterpiece, "Poses", "life is a game and true love is a trophy". Loudon took the chorus/bridge on the song, reciting from a lyric sheet. But watching the father tribute his son was immensely moving: he moved an average evening into an emotional messiness and yet an event. When the two hugged at the end of the song, they seemed both completely distanced, very scarred, very damaged, and yet together On the title track of Older Than My Old Man Now, he dismisses Rufus's late Mom Kate McGarrigle, with "I'm guilty of out living my ex". As requiems go…

On the other hand, Rufus didn't sing the vicious slap down "Dinner At Eight" and his sister Martha didn't sing the even nastier paternal dismissal "Mother Fucking Asshole". As Loudon put it in his hugely popular "Daughter", "I lost every time I fought her".

And those weren't the only, though they are probably the most famous, of his family members who showed up Friday night. His daughter with Suzzy Roche  Lucy was there. She sang "All In the Family" and his sister Sloan, and his nephew Sam McTavey. And Suzzy, a different ex-wife!, just about stole what Rufus left of the show. Suzzy was part of the sister folke act The Roches. And I am sure I am not the only one completely obsessed with them! Suzzy, the youngest of the three Roches, wondered who would know who she was but the rousing reception put that worry out of her mind and just hearing Suzzy's voice on her song based upon her book "Wayward Sons" was a pleasure.

Lessee: and Loudon III even brought out his own daddy Loudon Jr, who died in 1988, in spirit at least, by reading from his dad's Life Magazine columns. And his Mom, who he sang for, and Loudon, as Steve Crawford noted in his LW3 overview a coupla days, was an inveterate Mama's boy, just like III's own son, Rufus, still in mourning for his (and our) beloved Mama Kate McGarrigle.

Which leaves us with the reason we are all here.

Kate's death lead Rufus to write his Songs For Lulu album, his Dad wrote about her from a great distance. On Older Than My Old Man Now, Kate , and mortality, are standing in front of Loudon beckoning him on and Loudon is trying like hell to resist eternity. And Loudon finds immortality in the middle of the fight, "Even stays that way after we die, leaves branches twigs on a family tree…" might be metaphor but "when you get to hold a new baby…" as a fixer of the present and the future is simple observation.

But I wasn't overly fond of the album, and after "In C" , I can't particularly hear it. On stage LW3 is a commanding presence and while he is essentially, and admittedly, just playing the newbie, the set is well crafted:

Band song


with band

with family member

family solo


But the intermission was ridiculous, a killing off of 20 minutes of life. Without it, it would have been a sharp two hours , with it, it was a sprawl and not a real sprawl. for one thing, Loudon spend a third of the show off stage. And since I am not thrilled by the album, though many people love it, it puts me off., when he was on stage I was not drawn in often enough. Only a fool isn't obsessed with death, but Loudon is too obsessively physical in his descriptions and DECAY isn't very interesting.

The evening amounts to Loudon throwing himself his own wake and calling out his family in his o-so-typical brutal manner. He goes round his family to only reach back to himself. I caught another son of  a father, Justin Townes Earle, the night before, and both Justin and Loudon surround themselves (to different ends, admittedly) with family to gratify their sense of self. At Thursday's show, Justin claimed his father, country magician Steve Earle, failed in teaching him out to be a man, Loudon bullied his kids and broke their families apart. Then stuck em as props on stage.

Watching it is a little unpleasant. He is like the Billy Ray Cyrus of folk.It is a punishing self regard. Compare it to the last time I saw Kate McGarrigle on stage with Martha Wainwright, there the familial regard was so sweet. Their love shone off the stage. Friday night it seemed stunted as LW3 and his crack band, performed a very good set and yet a very sad set. He is like Scrooge at the end of a Christmas Carol, only he is still alive while his family steals his death shroud.

Anyway, the problem is as good as the set is, the great moments aren't that many to behold. "In C', "Dreaming" , "White Winos" "Poses" "Wayward Saints" and that's it. Of those, only "Poses" taught me something I didn't know.

Grade: B 

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