Rufus Wainwright gives emotional, complex performance
 

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posted Friday, September 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 36

Rufus Wainwright gives emotional, complex performance
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Rufus Wainwright
August 25
Paramount Theatre


It's rare to witness Rufus Wainwright struggle through a live performance - he's a perfectionist and an immensely skilled musician who always delivers a flawless concert. But at the Paramount Theatre last week, the singer-songwriter faced a few challenges on the final date of his latest tour, having to pull himself together and finish the show on a somber yet triumphant note.

Wainwright began the night, which was split into two halves, by marching slowly, silently, and directly to a piano at center stage. The audience was asked to hold their applause until the completion of the first act, which was a run-through of all 12 tracks from his newest album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, played in continuity with barely a pause.

Dressed in a flamboyant black cape with feathers, glitter, and ruffles by designer Zaldy - the designer known for stitching together Lady GaGa's outlandish outfits - Wainwright dazzled on several Lulu numbers, including the opening piece "Who Are You, New York?" and "Martha," a song written about his own sister, who made an appearance later in the evening.

"The Dream" was rather intense, while "Zebulon" was uplifting. Overall, the show's first half was odd and not as illuminating as I imagined it would be - the background images by visual artist Douglas Gordon, a series of blinking and crying pupils in microscopic view, was more of a distraction than an accompaniment to Wainwright's acoustic piano and vocal execution. I appreciated the artistic bend that Wainwright was going for, though it was bizarre and unenticing.

After a 15-minute intermission, the second half of the concert started with Wainwright strolling out in an orange two-piece suit and playing "Beauty Mark" from his self-titled debut. Free to applaud and cheer to their hearts' content, the crowd enthusiastically welcomed his more familiar work, which included a lovely rendition of "Grey Gardens" and stunning versions of a pair of standouts off Want Two, "This Love Affair" and "The Art Teacher."

Younger sister Martha Wainwright, who supported Rufus as an opening act for this tour, reappeared for duets on a few songs, including a sensual cover of the Josephine Baker classic "Nuits de Miami" and another French gem, "Complainte de la Butte" (translation: complaint of the butt), spurring Wainwright to joke, "Which is common here in Seattle with all these hills." Though not as startling as kd lang's version, his rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was beautiful and grand.

"This is the greatest tour I've ever been on," exclaimed the older Wainwright to his sister, and thus began a gradual breakdown. "This was my mother's favorite thing to see us do - sing together," he said, weeping. His mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle, passed away earlier this year, and combined with tour fatigue, this took its toll on Wainwright in the last segment of the program.

He battled through "Little Sister," sniffling and trying his best to clear a stuffed-up nose, and he comically re-booted "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" following a slight burp, or as he put it, "coughing up rice." "Going to a Town" was riveting, and it received the biggest reaction from those who remained in the theater (some left after the first act).

By the time Wainwright got to a cover of "The Walking Song," written by his mom, he was in tears and paused twice with his head down, sounding totally congested. But he pulled through, wrapping up the song and leaving the stage to thunderous cheers.

Rufus Wainwright has had better nights in Seattle, and he's likely to return in the coming year with his self-composed opera Prima Donna. This performance was not a disaster by any means - the intimacy of the show and song selection were superb - but it didn't represent what he's truly capable of doing: blowing us away.



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