“Happy birthday!” someone yells at Loudon Wainwright III. The classic American singer-songwriter clocked up another year on Monday. “Thank you,” he replies. “I’m 37.”
He’s actually 76, but it’s the first of many yarns during an evening marked by sharp insights, darkly funny misanthropy and mischievous banter, all Wainwright’s trademarks. “You’re all liquored up, aren’t ya?” he asks the boisterous Yorkshire crowd, before cheekily customising new song Town & Country: “I can’t believe I’m here … in Pocklington!”
Wainwright is touring Lifetime Achievement, his 26th studio album in 52 years, a lively mix of songs that reflect on ageing (“How old is 75? So old that you are barely alive”) and his desire for more years. Standing with an acoustic guitar, he plays as if trying to escape invisible restraints, his face contorted as if facing into a gale and his tongue darting out of his mouth during solos. To honour the UK crowd, he dusts off the unwittingly timely POW (Prince of Wales): “I guess one day his mum will cough up that crown, but you can’t pin her down.”
Knowing chuckles greet his announcement of several “family” songs, a regular fount of inspiration for Wainwright – famously to the chagrin of his musician children Rufus and Martha. The Picture is a beautiful reflection on home life, but howls of laughter greet droll new song Family Vacation (“I’m gonna pack up the car, load up the bike and kayak … and leave the fuckin’ family at home”).
Wainwright careers from Bob Dylan and Peter Blegvad covers to short stories about the women in Hammer horror films (“as erotic as it got for a 12-year old in 1958”). After 90 minutes, he is finally tiring. Lifetime Achievement is a humbling confessional of love (for his partner and his audience) from a man facing his final years. Still, lest anyone think he’s mellowing too much, he mischievously details plans for his own memorial, to be attended by “kids, ex-wives, all my former girlfriends – in a light drizzle – who can then trudge off to their miserable existences, après moi!”