Live Music + Gig Reviews

Rufus Wainwright @ New Theatre, Oxford

13 May 2005

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright

Though sales don’t show it, Rufus Wainwright has hit the big time recently. He’s had a new album, a TV documentary, countless colour-supplement features and it seems no Hollywood wannabe is worth anything without admitting to being a fan of the Canadian.

And, it just so happens his very talented sister Martha and his folkie father Loudon (‘not a tyrant’ according to our man) are touring these shores with new material as well, so there has been the half-expectation throughout Rufus’s tour in support of latest record Want Two that these two might join him on stage.

Incorporating other segments of the Wainwright dynasty into his performance though, would have disrupted what, having also seen him in Reading, is a rigidly adhered to set list and, dare I say it, theatrical spectacle. Rufus, in case anyone was unaware, is rather gay, and the camp nature of this night was summed up by the hilarity (depravity?) of the encore when, during Old Whore’s Diet, Rufus and his band (including, for the record, Matt Johnson, former drummer to Jeff Buckley) stripped off into lingerie and S&M gear and gloriously flaunted themselves, none as buoyantly as Rufus himself, who in a g-string, fairy wings and a sash saying ‘Miss Oxford’, dominated the theatre in an endearingly outrageous way.

But maybe this gives the wrong impression. Rufus has made four sublime albums, and this is down to his ability to mould the most heartbreaking melodies, deeply personal lyrics and astonishing voice into ethereal music that is tear jerking, moving, tender, and all those other overused adjectives. Tonight, Dinner At Eight had the woman next to me blubbing, and desperately poignant was Memphis Skyline, a tragic paean to Jeff Buckley (“Always hated him for the way he looked/ In the gaslight of the morning”). However, the highlight was Beautiful Child, a luscious track from Want One where every instrument burst out of the stage like a tsunami, reaching operatic proportions. It felt for a few moments that the New Theatre wouldn’t stand up to it.

To balance all this joy, Rufus chose a comparatively deflating support act. Joan As A Police Woman told us we should all be scared because we are all going to die alone, before singing songs about dead people. The evening had ups and downs. But ultimately, we at Rufus’s feet were all thrillingly high.

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