Rufus Wainwright’s performance at The Egg on Thursday evening was completely over the top, outrageously self-indulgent and utterly glorious.
The evening began with an opening announcement that flipped traditional concert etiquette on its head – please take photos and videos of the performance and please don’t applaud until after Rufus has left the stage.
Wearing white face make-up with smudges of baby-blue color beneath both eyes, Wainwright made quite an entrance – walking across the stage in a black, floor-length gown with a large, tall fur and feathers collar and a train that trailed behind him for nearly the entire width of the stage. He settled in at the grand piano, and he he began playing the opening “Who Are You New York?,” Douglas Gordon’s slow motion film of an eye smudged with black make-up was projected on the large movie screen behind him. The eye opened and closed in slow motion. Then there were two eyes. Then more.
The film’s imagery was as spooky and captivating as Wainwright’s performance – an uninterupted solo piano and vocal recital of his latest album, “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu,” a song-cycle of grief and desperation that tied together Shakespearian sonnets, the death of his mother (Kate McGarrigle, last January) and Wainwright’s uber-romantic music. The music, however, leaned much more toward the classical end of the spectrum (perhaps the French impressionism of Debussy), rather than the lush, orchestral pop of Wainwright’s earlier albums. He howled into the theater’s rafters. He sang in French. It was an outpouring of raw emotion. It was Drama with a capital “D.”
He has come a long, long way since making his Nippertown debut at Valentine’s back in 1999.
After an intermission, he returned to the solo in more traditional jeans and a jacket to perform another hour of his more pop-oriented songs, from “Beauty Mark” to “Poses.” Of course, Wainwright’s brand of pop doesn’t sound anything like the Black Eyed Peas or the Dave Matthews Band, but rather some idiosyncratic melding of Stephen Foster and Jimmy Webb.
Of course, the extended Wainwright-Roche-McGarrigle musical family is full of talent, full of drama and full of subject matter for songs. During the first half, Rufus sang about his sister, “Martha.” He sang about his father (Loudon Wainwright III) during the unflinchingly confrontational “Dinner at Eight.” He sang a duet of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with his sister (Lucy Wainwright Roche), who also opening the show with a wry, six-song solo set of her own). And he closed the show with a song by his mother, “The Walking Song,” full of hope and optimism.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The silence after the first song was certainly uncomfortable, but we quickly got the hang of it. It raised the tenor of the room beyond a mere pop concert to a demanding art performance. Wainwright’s vocals near operatic levels, while his hands work up frenzied emotions on the keyboard. ‘Give Me What I Want and Give it to Me Now’ had a slight vocal hook to it, but his piano playing changed moods dramatically within the verses. ‘The Dream’ might have contained the best moment, when he lifted his head and sang to the roof, ‘Who was the dream? Was it you or was it me?’”
Related story: Rufus Wainwright, What Was the First Album You Ever Bought?
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT SET LIST
All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
Who Are You New York?
So Sad With What I Have
Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now!
What Ever Would I Do With a Rose?
Les Feux D’Artifice T’Appellent
In a Graveyard
The Art Teacher
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) (w/Lucy Wainwright Roche)
Dinner at Eight
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
Going to a Town
The Walking Song (Kate McGarrigle)
LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE SET LIST
The Worst Part
Accident and Emergency
Hungry Heart (Bruce Springsteen)