Rufus Wainwright is an incredibly talented guy who seems like he’s from another era or, possibly, another planet. That is a large part of his appeal--he is, in a sense, untouchable, larger than life, entirely his own being. And his June 8 concert at New York's Gramercy Theatre, the third in a four-night series, made it clear that there is nobody quite like him in show business today.
The show opened with a folk/country singer named Teddy Thompson, who is no stranger to touring with the Wainwrights. (There are good musical genes in both families: Teddy and Rufus are the sons of Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III, respectively.)
He sounded great up there with his guitar and twangy voice, and poked fun at himself by saying that he was dressed like a banker (which he was). His sullen, bluesy tunes set a quiet “calm before the storm” mood before the explosion that is Rufus; he was a perfect yin to his yang.
When Rufus burst onto the stage singing “Release The Stars,” which is also the name of his new album, there was a sparkling collar around his neck, a heated instrumental crescendo and a disco ball shooting trippy lights around the venue.
He had arrived.
Joined by a seven-person band, who played everything from drums to tubas to banjos, Rufus performed a total of 23 songs (19 standard, 4 encores)--including an intermission to add to the theatrical vibe of the show and, likely, to give his voice some R&R.
Over the course of the night, he played a handful of older tunes and the entire run of Release The Stars, a grandiose, infectious album that throws caution to the wind. You just haven’t heard this CD until you’ve heard it performed live.
The show was certainly diverse, to say the least. After the “here I am!” stunning opener, he headed over to the piano to play the mellow “Going To A Town,” where he sang in his forcefully nasal but strangely pleasing voice, “I’m so tired of you, America” (an interesting juxtaposition to the artsy-looking American flag in the backdrop).
No two songs sounded the same and they were played in a shuffled-deck manner: The eighth song, “Leaving For Paris,” a gorgeous, soulful standout that he crooned on piano, was followed by him grabbing a guitar and rocking out to the uproarious “Between My Legs,” which featured a surprise appearance by Donnie Darko himself, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Rufus’ wardrobe was equally as interesting. In the beginning he wore a striped, posh outfit; at the halfway mark he sported a green get-up and knee-high socks; and he was cloaked in a bathrobe during an encore performance of “I Don’t Know What It Is.”
One of the night’s highlights was when he stripped it off to reveal a dress--and his shockingly nice legs--letting us know that “Judy” was present (thus channeling his daring recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert last year, which earned rave reviews). The old-school throwback to “Get Happy” with energetic ‘50s style dancers was full of spunk and hilarity.
“Just a little fun there at the expense of my fucking feet,” he deadpanned afterward, flaunting his natural flair for humor.
Some people accuse Rufus of being too self-indulgent, too over the top, too, let’s face it, gay, but all of these things make the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist what he is: a breath of fresh air in the musical landscape. He is not afraid to break convention, speak his mind and even start a song over if he’s not happy with it (which he did with “I’m Not Ready To Love”).
He is a performer who, much like Judy, echoes sentiments of “there’s no place like home.”
And, for him, home is right there on the stage.