“Any questions or comments?”
Yes, as it happens, Lucy Wainwright Roche, I do have some questions or comments. How on earth does your half-brother Rufus Wainwright hold those notes? Why have relatively few people heard of Rufus? How did he get into those trousers? Why did nobody mention that Jean Paul Gaultier was here until the end of the show?!
Last night, Rufus Wainwright rattled his way through Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s glittering West End. That shimmer clearly rubbed off on my favourite American-Canadian as he sashayed onto the stage in a fabulous sparkly jacket (not worn on the Eastern European leg of this tour, he told us) and belted out, not hit after hit, as Rufus’ music has inexplicably never really caught on here outside his posse of devotees, but one gorgeous swelling thunderclap after another.
Rufus’ support for the night was his charming half-sister, Lucy, who got the audience warmed up with some haunting little folky tunes. Her delicacy and calmness was in powerful contrast to the goliath that is Rufus Wainwright when he takes a running jump and flies into a note that continues for around three months. I don’t think anyone in that audience disliked Lucy as she punctuated her songs with requests for ‘any questions or comments?’ in that awkward way that somehow puts everyone at ease. Support acts can be tricky for lots of people to comprehend, and Lucy made it all too clear that she knew everyone was there to see her brother. But when you buy tickets to see one Wainwright, you know it’ll be a family affair, and she made a wonderfully whimsical introduction to the night.
The first part of his set focused primarily on new material and songs from Vibrate: The Best Of, (‘not a greatest hits’, as Rufus pointed out), with standout tracks being the titular Vibrate, demonstrating a fine pair of lungs and, aptly, some flawless vibrato, and a stripped-back version of Jericho. He also introduced two new songs, Argentina for his husband (and played against a star-studded backdrop which made the audience melt into ‘aaah!’s) and the lyrically profound, if anything but uplifting, Friendship (‘Friendship really doesn’t matter when you’re too old to remember’).
The entire evening really was Rufus laid bare. Stripped of his usual baroque ensemble, it was down to Rufus, a grand piano and a guitar to pack all the punches. For Candles, a song written for his late mother Kate McGarrigle, we were treated to a raw, a cappella behemoth, utterly sincere and captivating. Precious snippets of Rufus’ life were interspersed between songs, and even though most fans would know all the stories, nobody minded hearing them once more told as eloquent anecdotes.
Fans of his older material (me) weren’t left disappointed, with a rousing version of Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk sneaking into a largely downbeat, tender set, and a painful revisit to The Art Teacher among the highlights of the entire evening. One of the final songs of the evening was the lush, rich Hallelujah, where Rufus invited audience members to join him on stage for what was charmingly named the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.
Laced with dry humour (including a segment where Rufus introduced Lucy, dressed as Liza Minelli, to the stage for a duet of ‘Me and Liza’) and deliciously human stories about the dark and the light in Wainwright’s life, this was an evening for the fans and nobody else. It was romantic and reassuring and enveloping and droll and alive and massive and fascinating and intricate and intimate and everything you would expect from the Rufus Wainwright who sits not in a tinny speaker on a laptop, but right in front of you at his grand piano.
Buy Vibrate: The Best Of by Rufus Wainwright.