Marianne Faithfull: Live Last Night
By Dave McKenna
Marianne Faithfull's voice during her wonderful late show at the Rams Head in Annapolis on Monday had little in common with the waify warble she used in 1965 on her first hit, "As Tears Go By," as a teenage plaything of the Rolling Stones. She has over the years survived heroin and cocaine, tuberculosis and cancer, and even Jagger and Richards. That which did not kill her made her voice huskier. At 62, she sounds like a melding of her 18-year-old self and Ernest Borgnine, assuming Borgnine was a genius at pop phrasing.
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The special toughness of her vocals on this night might have been related to the few sneezing fits Faithfull suffered through early in the show. She promised those in the line of fire at the front tables that she didn't have swine flu.
But the one-hour performance she delivered was worth risking influenza to hear. Much of the set list came from her latest CD, the covers collection, "Easy Come, Easy Go." Faithfull's occasionally tragic past, which includes a very public miscarriage during one of her heavy partying periods, made Dolly Parton's already brutal tale of an unwed mother left alone with a dead baby, "Down from Dover," even more of a tear-jerker. She led her attentive and skilled backing quartet through a lounge-ish version of Randy Newman's "In Germany Before the War." Everybody got loud and rocky on Neko Case's "Hold On, Hold On," and the Decemberists' "Crane Wife 3."
Faithfull's fans have always been most interested in her ties to the Glimmer Twins. And for them she did "Sister Morphine," a druggie anthem she co-wrote with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. She introduced "As Tears Go By" as the song "where it all started" and had everybody in the small crowd smiling as wide as she was. Before capping the night with Merle Haggard's death row tale, "Sing Me Back Home," she said, "I learned it from Keith and Gram Parsons." What a life. What a singer.
Marianne Faithfull performs tonight, Sept. 29, at the Birchmere.
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