This past weekend I had the pleasure to catch Rufus Wainwright perform at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. It was a smaller venue, which in addition to being a completely solo performance, created an intimate atmosphere for the concert.
His sister, Lucy opened the concert, making it possible for me to say that I’ve seen all of the Wainwright children perform. (Martha opening for Gomez at Webster Hall was an unexpected surprise.) While hearing her sing and play guitar, one could only conclude that there are some serious talent genes in this family.
Although a newcomer to the music business in comparison to her siblings, Lucy seemed completely at ease alone up on stage. Her voice was clean and pure in a way that remind me of a pitch-perfect french horn.
Her music and demeanor lacked the theatrical flair of her brother, and is more entrenched in traditional folk, but everyone enjoyed it nonetheless.
Then came Rufus. Here’s a guy who most likely grew up being told how talented and special he was. Yet he seems to have been able to take it all in stride. He came off as personable and grounded. Easily likable but still awe-inspiring. All the while, his inborn musical ability is impossible to ignore.
Immediately following up his sister, it was evident as to what makes him stand out. Whereas Lucy’s singing was beautiful and soothingly harmonious with the space within the theatre, Rufus seemed to be able to replace the air around the audience with his voice. As if the air were saturated with his singing. I’ve heard powerful, impressive vocals such as Karen O’s eardrum piercing howls, but with Rufus it seemed to effortlessly flow from his mouth.
Since it was a solo show to an audience of devoted fans, Rufus was more willing to deviate into a set-list of b-sides and rarities. While that made it feel all the more special and intimate, it caused a few hiccups during the show. His performance of 11:11 (a favorite of mine) started off as great as I’d imagine but melted down in the end because he couldn’t remember the lyrics.
Still, it was incredibly enjoyable to be able to catch performances of Poses, California and the magnificent cover of Hallelujah. Those were the songs that introduced me to Rufus Wainwright, and it was interesting to hear them again after forgetting about them for a while. I was able to see his progression over the years.
The talent and voice were always there, but it seemed that his early works relied a bit more on elaborately flourished piano playing. Nowadays, his songs tend to be more confident in the vocals and songwriting, infusing his classic music training rather than using it as a crutch. Oh, the flair for the gothic and baroque are still there, but better balanced within the songs as a whole.
There weren’t the usual concert stage divers or obnoxious flailing bodies dancing, but there were still the annoying attendees at the show. Ahem, front-row-standing-ovation-after-every-song guy and multiple-orgasm-during-every-quiet-moment-within-a-song girl.
I seem to gush over every performance I go to lately, but I find it hard to believe that anyone, even those who wouldn’t be fans of his style, could deny that the man has serious talent. It was all the more evident during a solo performance and I’d love to catch a full backing band concert soon. Hopefully I can do just that in this great city I live in. And maybe he’ll play Shadows.
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
photo credit: hikaru (from the Rufus Wainwright message boards)