Described by The Independent as “…a genre unto himself…”, Rufus Wainwright is regarded by many as one of the great male vocalists and songwriters of his generation. New York-born and Montreal-raised Wainwright has released seven studio albums, three live albums and a “Best Of…” album in the course of his stellar career to date. The penultimate date of his UK Summer Tour 2018 brought him to Edinburgh’s plush Royal Lyceum Theatre on 2nd July.
This was a solo concert, just Rufus Wainwright, a grand piano, an acoustic guitar and, of course, those magnificent songs. Wainwright came on-stage to a loud and affectionate welcome and, resplendent in gold lame waistcoat and matching trousers, he took to the piano and launched into the jaunty Beauty Mark, which referenced his beloved mother, the late, great Kate McGarrigle. This was followed by the deliciously sly Vibrate and Memphis Skyline, a sprawling masterpiece written about his great friend Jeff Buckley. Switching to guitar, Wainwright breezed through the rousing Out Of The Game and Jericho, his elegant white shoes stomping out rhythms on the floorboards. Then it was back to the piano for intimate versions of more iconic songs from Wainwright’s impressive back catalogue, including the bittersweet classic The Art Teacher (written from the perspective of a woman of a certain age reflecting ruefully on a teenage crush which, she realises, was much more than that…) and the playful Montauk, which invoked his daughter’s burgeoning relationships with both of her dads.
Now approaching his mid-forties and with husband Jorn and daughter Viva providing stabilising influences, Rufus Wainwright appeared very much at ease with himself, and this former enfant terrible performed with all the maturity and assurance of an artist who has grown into his extravagant talent. Mid-set, Wainwright demonstrated his skills as a warm and witty raconteur. For example, his risqué anthem, Gay Messiah, was prefaced by two hilarious anecdotes, one of which involved him causing some unrest in The Vatican when he played it on tour in Italy, prompting sections of the Italian media to dub him ‘Lo Scandaloso’.
Wainwright also informed us that the recent completion of his second (commissioned) opera, Hadrian, means that he can focus his attention on recording what will be his first ‘pop’ album since 2012’s Out Of The Game. This was the cue for a few new songs, the pick of which were the graceful Peaceful Afternoon, which set Wainwright’s pride at thirteen years of wedded bliss against a growing awareness of his own mortality, and the lugubrious Early Morning Madness, portraying the effects of a hangover and evoking the atmosphere of a smoke-filled night-club in 1930s Germany. This sombre mood was lifted by a spirited cover of So Long, Marianne, written by his daughter’s maternal grandfather, Leonard Cohen.
Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Rufus Wainwright gig without a bit of camp silliness and this came in the form of a delightfully daft anti-Trump rap, performed while ‘Melania Trump’ (Wainwright’s generously-muscled personal trainer in drag…) sashayed around at the side of the stage. When the hilarity had died down, Wainwright brought the main set to a close with a spine-tingling a capella version of the stately Candles and the sparkling signature song Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, his metaphorical musings on self-denial.
In the course of a simply sumptuous encore, Rufus Wainwright sent the audience home in raptures with a trio of true classics: the caustically anti-government protest of Going To A Town (written in the George W. Bush era, but, sadly, just as applicable to modern-day USA), a beautifully-judged and powerful cover of Cohen’s Hallelujah (does anyone sing this better?) and another signature song, the stunningly beautiful Poses.
This was a masterful performance from Rufus Wainwright, an artist at the very top of his game. He will be back in Scotland (Glasgow, this time) next April, with a full band, as part of his ‘All These Poses’ European tour.
Photo courtesy of Greg Gorman.