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?"
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).