Marianne Faithfull has been a poster girl for both unrepentant decadence and unfettered regret over the years — and while those extremes have no doubt played havoc with her personal life, they’ve also imbued her music with a darkly hued, virtually indelible beauty.
At this rare stateside performance, Faithfull didn’t hesitate to explore that darkness, but her early aspirations as a mainstream entertainer come through in her stage presence. Unlike many avowedly edgy performers, she maintains a comfortable rapport with her audience, peppering her set with jokes — many at her own expense — and generally working the room with ease.
At times, that underbelly of conventionality bordered on the perturbing: She undercut the harrowing tone of the confessional “Vagabond Ways” — the title track from her recently released album — with an oddly declamatory tone that conjured up images of Andrew Lloyd Webber rather than Kurt Weill, her usual muse. On the other hand, her rendition of the album’s similarly themed “Incarceration of a Flower Child” — delivered, appropriately, from a horizontal position — proved thoroughly harrowing.
Throughout, Faithfull was buoyed by the musicianship of a stellar band anchored by guitarist Smokey Hormel, best known for his work with Beck and Tom Waits. The quartet executed some adroit atmospheric U-turns over the course of the set, shifting from chiming Merseybeat pop (on her mid-’60s hit “Come See With Me”) to churning waves of regal dissonance (“Wilder Shores of Love”).
The ravages of hard living are manifest in virtually every note Faithfull sings, as evidenced by her set-ending rasp through Leonard Cohen’s wry “Tower of Song.” But while there’s something undeniably tragic about the dissolution of her once-angelic voice, she makes up for that loss by carrying herself with an unapologetically wizened dignity — something her ’60s contemporaries could learn plenty from.