It is inevitable in the years to come, decades in the future, that Rufus Wainwright will be the subject of slightly cheaply made, glossy cable-TV documentaries – rather like those ones you get on James Dean and Marlon Brando on daytime ITV2.
In these retrospectives, the 2006-2007 period when he devoted himself to recreating Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall show on both sides of the Atlantic will be regarded as the transitional period, straddling the druggy catharsis of the Wants and last year’s Release The Stars, his ‘looking outward’ album. Those performances and this album will also, probably, be analysed as a pre-cursor to Rufus’s future period where he left the pop balladeering behind, to invest himself fully in opera, or more staggeringly ambitious projects like this.
Perhaps after the Wants he thought he owed himself a bit of fun, and indeed the foremost impression on this double-album of the New York show is that Rufus, his band and the audience are undergoing two hours or so of extreme joy. There are fluffed intros (as always with Rufus, transformed into the most gorgeous ad-libbing) and the odd botched lyric, but rarely can anyone enjoying himself so, losing himself so completely, be so close to technical perfection.
Partly thanks to the material and partly thanks to an evident, newly realised maturity in his vocal chords, this album captures on record his voice at its very finest. Ever. Whether it be the up-tempo medley of Almost Like Being In Love/This Can’t Be Love to the slow, languid Do It Again (spectacularly, herculeanly, in the same key as Judy in 1961) or How Long Has This Being Going On.
Obviously Rufus’s initial and most deeply felt intention with this project was to pay tribute to Garland on a grand scale, but the other consequence of these shows was that he could turn his voice to a beautifully diverse range of composers, exposing the full spectrum of his vocal elastics.
Schwartz and Dietz’s dramatic Alone Together can contrast with Irving Berlin’s essential Putting On The Ritz, George Gershwin’s loungey How Long Has This Been Going On (arguably the most enjoyable track here) with Noel Coward’s If Love Were All. To nitpick to the point of facileness, a full vocal rendition of The Trolley Song (only instrumental as part of a medley here) and the inclusion of Cole Porter’s Every Time You Say Goodbye would have been a real treat
On hand, as ever, is sister and mother to crank-up the feel good factor, and a more life-affirming live album you’ll not find. Wainwright needs no more superlatives from me after the year he’s just had, but sheesh, in the words of Schwartz and Dietz, That’s Entertainment.