Marianne Faithfull - Barbican Centre, London - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Marianne Faithfull - Barbican Centre, London

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

It's an unjust quirk of Marianne Faithfull's career that it always feels as if she has to prove herself. So intertwined is her legend with that of Jagger & Richards, and the rise and fall of the 60s hippie dream that it sometimes feels like an insurmountable task to get past all that and focus on the woman and her work. Perhaps Faithfull feels this too, but if it is a need to prove herself which motivates her to deliver the performance she does tonight then it's hard to complain.

Opening with the title track of her new album, Horses and High Heels, Faithfull and her band (including MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer) hit the ground running and keep up the momentum with new single 'Why Did We Have to Part?' The punchy, rocky material on Horses and High Heels, a sharp contrast to Easy Come Easy Go's swinging standards, unsurprisingly works well in a live setting and the band frame her inimitable, time-lashed croon perfectly. Slower, atmospheric moments such as 'There is a Ghost', co-written with Nick Cave, work particularly well.

At 64, Faithfull has a stage presence which is equal parts grand dame and naughty schoolgirl. She tells us she's been "smoking my fucking brains out", lights up with rebellious élan between songs, and by the end of the night is virtually bouncing with joy at how well things have gone. However, as soon as the music starts you can see her elide seamlessly in to the role the song demands. In this way, she is a similar performer to Bowie, approaching each song as an actor, something which enhances the pathos, sorrow and defiance her voice can summon.

Her charisma is also undeniable and the audience is willing putty in her hands from the start. Of course, we want her to acknowledge her history and this she does with glorious panache. Introducing a ferocious rendition of 'Sister Morphine', Faithfull mentions Jagger to cheers from the crowd. She pulls a face: "The great, the wonderful blah blah blah... But I wrote half this song." She plays it just right.

Not everything works. At times the band slips into rawk noodling and this happens increasingly towards the end of the set. The sparse folk of John Lennon's 'Working Class Hero' is ripe for reworking, but what it emphatically doesn't need is a bass solo and two guitar solos, all of which it is burdened with tonight. Conversely, her debut single, 'As Tears Goes By', could have done with some retooling; her matured voice no longer suits the song's gentle folk. Much better would have been the slower, sensual re-imagining she recorded in the 90s. It would also have been great to hear a few songs from 2002's Kissin' Time, especially 'Sliding Through Life on Charm', a wonderfully snooty retelling of the Faithfull legend by Jarvis Cocker. Ah, well.

Of course, she saves the best 'til last. Just as it looks like things are wrapping up, the band leave the stage save one guitarist and Faithfull, spot-lit and lonesome, delivers a bleak and beautiful version of 'Strange Weather', written for her by Tom Waits. You could hear a pin drop in the audience. That is until she finishes, and then the roar is deafening. She tells us she's overwhelmed, and she looks it. More than a legend, certainly not just a footnote in someone else's story - Marianne Faithfull just might be at the height of her powers.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles