Live Music + Gig Reviews

Rufus Wainwright @ Old Vic, London

28 May 2007

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright

As if you didn’t know it already, Rufus Wainwright has great legs. And he knows it. Those pins were on display for much of tonight, one of his five nights of residency at London’s venerable Old Vic.

For the final encore, like the Gay Messiah he is, he donned stockings, earrings, lipstick and the famous ‘sexy’ suit get-up of Liza Minelli to rip through a couple of his gayer numbers. Before this, we’d had a blue pin-stripe suit freckled with broaches, the lederhosen that so tastefully adorned him in the album art of Release The Stars, and a white towelling dressing gown.

The costumes matter. Almost as much as the music. While the new album is open to accusations of dumbing down and Rufus retreating to a certain comfort zone, his shows remain extraordinary, uniquely charming, spectacular, moving and celebratory.

Split into two halves with a 20-minute interval splicing proceedings (a quirk of the venue, no doubt), most material was new. All songs faultless and faithful to the arrangements on record, bar one. I’m Leaving For Paris was rendered with guitar, bass and percussion that wouldn t have been out of place at a Steve Reich or John Adams concert, such was its minimalism. The song’s melody and the sparseness of this new arrangement gave a jarring, uncomfortable, and not unwelcome essence to Rufus. He’s clearly not Barry Manilow just yet.

Do I Disappoint You was magnificent, a true show stopper, as was Between My Legs complete with a Dawn French cameo. Slideshow is the new Waiting For A Dream. Tiergarten, Tulsa and the darling of his current repertoire, Release The Stars, left all satisfied, if not aghast.

What did leave everyone gaping was when he turned off the microphones and, in a theatre apparently renowned for its acoustics, performed a traditional Irish song unplugged. Seeing him do this, face turned to the heavens like a boy soprano singing Christmas carols in the snow, is one experience I shall look back at on my death bed, and realise it wasn’t all wasted.

Another interlude was to revisit a couple of his Judy Garland tunes and indeed the general impression must be that live Rufus has moved on. When touring Want 2, the show was very structured and formalised “now’s the part of the show where I sing about my family” he would say two years ago, and do so every night. Now, he seems reconciled to letting himself go, feeling his way through a concert and allowing himself to act on impulse, most gloriously evidenced in his microphone-free triumph.

He’s kept stalwarts of his old band, such as Matt Johnson and Jeff Hill, but has added a brass section and a second guitarist all to the good, conveying, surprise surprise, the operatic lushness of the new album. Another difference from days of Rufus past was the absence of any female voices to accompany him, as both his sister Martha and Joan Wasser have done in the past – and this did weaken the show at times. But I’m sure as hell not going to complain about anything. I left a happy prince.

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