Rufus Wainwright: Concert Review

By Jeff Walsh

Rufus Wainwright suffers from a unique malady: he's too talented. Whereas many artists find a single groove and ride it over and over again, Rufus has no such problem.

If anything, the problem with Rufus is that his material is often so varied, it is hit or miss whether a concert will have enough cohesion to sort of rise above the "bunch of songs" vibe. The last time I saw him do a full set was the night he recorded his live DVD at The Fillmore, and he certainly brought the magic that night.

But tonight at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium, the show had a bit of a schizophrenic vibe, with Rufus switching costumes three times offstage and once in front of the crowd, and a set list running everywhere from dirges to pop to Judy Garland to Irish folk songs to Beatles covers to choreographed drag numbers. None of it was bad, it just didn't seem to have that "glue" that could hold it all together.

Maybe the issue is that I haven't committed his latest CD, "Release the Stars," to memory. I've played it, but I don't know it as well as I do his earlier stuff. And 12 of the 14 tracks on the new CD made the set list, whereas nothing from the first two albums showed up at all.

Rufus entered the stage wearing a white sparkly suit that evoked skinny Elvis in fat Elvis's Vegas attire. He quickly worked through four tracks off the new CD before sitting at the piano for two solo numbers. As he sat down at the piano, someone yelled out a request for "Art Teacher," prompting Rufus to say that he can only play "one brilliant song at a time." He did follow up Tulsa with Art Teacher, either a fulfilled request or set list serendipity.

For "Between My Legs," a gender-bending audience member joined Rufus onstage, as part of an ongoing contest where someone in each city gets to do the spoken word. Rufus hinted that the number of entries has been surprisingly low, so if he's coming near you, you might want to enter.

After an intermission, Rufus took to the stage wearing lederhosen, a nod to his experience recording his latest CD in Germany. While Rufus included two Judy Garland number early in the set (he recently performed the entire Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall Concert at the same venue, and is recreating Garland's famous 1961 Hollywood Bowl concert at that venue in September), he saved the best for his final encore.

Rufus took to the stage in a white bathrobe, and sang "Across The Universe" with opener Sean Lennon on vocal harmonies. Getting Sean to do a Beatles cover seems like a total coup, and something he'd probably never do in his own set. But then, after two more songs on piano, Rufus sat center stage and put on diamond earrings to match his necklace.

Then, he pulled out a red lipstick and did up his lips. He then reached down and retrieved black high heels from behind the monitor. Finally, he stood up, walked toward the back of the stage, and removed his bathrobe in the low light.

The rest of his seven-piece band all came out in coordinated outfits, and Rufus turned around with a black hat, black suit jacket, and nothing showing on his long legs but his black stockings, as he worked through a whole choreographed version of "C'mon Get Happy," sung live to tape as his musicians had dance moves to attend to.

Rufus then closed the show singing "Gay Messiah" in full Judy drag, ending a nearly two and a half hour set (four hours after the first band appeared -- thankfully a seated show).

It was an amazing night, although I'm still perplexed how so many disparate threads can be unified into something more cohesive. It's all Rufus, and all enjoyable, but it is a bit of a rollercoaster at times. One I'll surely ride again.

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Set list:

Release The Stars
Going To A Town
Sanssouci
Rules and Regulations
Tulsa
Art Teacher
Tiergarten
Leaving for Paris No. 2
Between My Legs

Intermission

Harvester of Hearts
Do I Disappoint You?
A Foggy Day (In London Town) (Judy Garland song)
If Love were All (Judy Garland song)
Nobody's Off The Hook
Beautiful Child
Not Ready To Love
Slideshow
Macushla (Irish folk standard)
14th Street

Encore

Across The Universe (Beatles cover, with Sean Lennon doing harmony)
Pretty Things
Complainte De La Butte (his song on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack)
C'mon Get Happy (Judy again)
Gay Messiah