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Live review: Marianne Faithfull at Royce Hall

October 4, 2009 |  8:42 pm

The '60 survivor takes an emotional journey through her career, including her new album and the hit that started it all, Jagger-Richards' 'As Tears Go By.'


Marianne Faithfull has lived a life of reinterpretation. She began as a pretty young face with a sweet voice, scoring her first hit with the precocious Jagger-Richards ballad "As Tears Go By," a 1964 Brit-pop single that might have suggested a career as Kiki Dee or Petula Clark. But she had other ideas, and a more dangerous path to follow in life and art.

Four decades later, she is an adventurous interpreter of rock, jazz and wounded cabaret, delivered in a raw, whiskey-nicotine wail. It's a remarkably elegant and versatile instrument, earned from long experience and a life-altering period of addiction and despair in the 1970s. At Royce Hall on Saturday for UCLA Live, Faithfull performed a wide-ranging set from throughout her career, including songs from her 22nd studio album, "Easy Come, Easy Go: 12 Songs for Music Lovers."

The collection of cover songs was produced by sometime-collaborator Hal Willner, and demonstrates her gift at re-creating songs in her own image, whether written by Duke Ellington, Dolly Parton, Randy Newman or Brian Eno. Her vocal range is not vast, but is able to express real strength and vulnerability, with an occasional softness in that weathered growl.

Her performance of Parton's "Down From Dover" felt less like country than something jazzy and metropolitan amid the brushes and upright bass rhythms of her versatile four-piece band. Faithfull was a gracious host who took a bow after every song, and progressed at an easy pace, despite her admission that she was "quite nervous, but we'll get over it."

She was comfortable enough to pause before performing "Crazy Love," co-written with Nick Cave, to slowly apply her lipstick. "Nick," she said after, "would think that was absurd."

There was eerie slide guitar work from local session ace Doug Pettibone over the rumble of bass, drums and piano on Newman's "In Germany Before the War." The band unleashed a thunderous rhythm for the Decemberists' "The Crane Wife 3," as Faithfull lamented: "I shall hang my head low."

On the new album are several name-brand duets with the likes of Keith Richards, Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power) and Rufus Wainwright, but as Faithfull sang alone at UCLA, the other voices hardly seemed necessary. She found beauty within the sadness of Ellington's "Solitude," expressing emotion minus the melodrama in an understated romantic groove.

From her past, the singer growled a biting "Why D'Ya Do It" from 1979, with lyrics of romantic rage that still cut 30 years later. There was also "Sister Morphine," which she co-authored with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones in 1969 (though not officially credited by the band until years later), providing lyrics that imagined the horror of addiction long before ever dabbling in hard drugs herself: "Why does the doctor have no face?"

During the night's encore, Faithfull again resurrected "As Tears Go By," the weight of experience in her voice infusing the old tune with more meaning than ever intended by the young Jagger & Richards.

In the right hands, nothing is beyond reinterpretation.

--Steve Appleford

Photo: Marianne Faithful in Germany. Credit: Michael Latz / AFP / Getty Images