Show Review: Marianne Faithfull at Yoshi’s Oakland, 3/4/10

by Jason LeRoy on March 5, 2010

Marianne Faithfull and her lyric book at Yoshi's Oakland. Photo by D. Ross Cameron.

Marianne Faithfull is my absolute favorite singer of all time. I should just admit that right now. This review is not by an apathetic novice or a casual fan of some familiarity with Marianne and her material. This review is by a certifiable megafan who sat in his booth and scarily mouthed the words to every single song throughout the evening, audibly gasping whenever she played a song I hadn’t heard live before. Despite my immense fandom, this was only my second time seeing her in concert. The first time nearly killed me. So, how did show #2 stack up?

Look at that sturdy British penmanship.

She signed my ticket!!! I almost died!!! Again!!!

So yes, it was an amazing show. In many ways, it was actually an improvement over the last time I saw her. For one thing, the venue suited her much better. I first saw her at UCLA’s cavernous Royce Hall, where she struggled a bit to fill the space with her presence while also connecting to her audience, which only took up maybe 25% of the 1,833 seats.

Thursday was the second of her two-night stint at Yoshi’s, and she seemed quite pleased by the considerably more intimate setting. After all, her career renaissance over the last 25 years has ostensibly been about reinventing herself as a cabaret singer, so her stage persona works best when she can charm small spaces with her drama and wit.

There was another aspect of her Royce Hall performance that I was hesitant to write about at the time, because I just didn’t want to acknowledge it: at times, during several songs, she would forget the words. Not that I can blame her! She is 63 years old, she sings live, and she’s recorded thousands of songs over the course of her 46-year career. But it still made me uncomfortable.

Then, last night, it happened again. During one of her first songs, she dropped a few of the words. I braced myself. But then, after the song, she began a story. “I was a very close friend of Allen Ginsberg…as were we all,” she said, to laughter from the audience. “And whenever I watched him read his poetry, he always had a book in front of him with the words. Because he didn’t necessarily know them all! ‘Howl,’ any of them, it didn’t matter. And so I thought, ‘If it’s good enough for Allen…’ Because I simply can’t remember all of the words! And I suspect it will only get worse as I get older. So, I have this,” she said, gesturing to a lyric book on a stand to her left.

Once she acknowledged it, the tension vanished completely. Marianne has always been a master at taking her limitations, knowing them, acknowledging them, and then transcending them through the sheer passion and commitment of artistry. Her voice, for instance.

Due to heavy drug use (namely one specific overdose in the late ’60s) and hard living in her youth, Marianne has had the singing voice of a much older woman since her 30s (only now does it seem age-appropriate). But while many professional singers would rather give up singing entirely than display their damaged voices to the world, Marianne has built the most glorious and lauded stage of her career entirely around it. And last night, she wasn’t even accompanied by a full band: she was joined solely by the brilliant Doug Pettibone on acoustic guitar. There’s really no conceivable way her voice could have been more exposed. And it was absolutely breathtaking.

Marianne’s sense of humor was quite apparent, as always, and she was also capable of laughing at herself. When someone shouted a request for “Pirate Jenny,” from her extensive Weill/Brecht period (best documented on the live album 20th Century Blues), she played at seeming flustered. “Oh dear! ‘Pirate Jenny’…well! I…could…no! No, we simply can’t! Can we? No! No, I’m sorry, but we just can’t! I can only do the material I’ve rehearsed, darlings. Next time!”

Then, while praising the audience for being enthusiastic and familiar with all of the songs she played, she declared that she’d “gossip” a bit with us about her other audiences. “Sometimes I’m up here on stage, and I just see these blank expressions in the audience, and it’s not till we get round to ‘As Tears Go By’ [her biggest radio hit] that they go, ‘Oh, right, that’s how I know her!'” Naturally I was aghast at this thought; that something as precious as a Marianne Faithfull performance would be wasted on such philistines. But even Madonna has to deal with disinterested businessmen in the front rows at her shows in Las Vegas, so I suppose it’s just part of the game.

Anyway! The whole evening was just fantastic. Marianne was in absolutely outstanding form, vocally and otherwise. She was adorable and hilarious and generous, and just generally a treasure. Vive la Faithfull!

Set list:

Times Square
Down From Dover
Hold On Hold On
Falling From Grace
The Crane Wife 3
Miss Otis Regrets
Crazy Love
Broken English
The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
Sister Morphine
Why’d Ya Do It?
As Tears Go By

Sing Me Back Home
Strange Weather

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