Review: Rufus Wainwright, Royal Concert Hall, by Mike Atkinson
A lot has happened to Rufus Wainwright over the past three years. In early 2010, he lost his beloved mother, the singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, to cancer. A year later he became a father – to Viva, born to Leonard Cohen's daughter Lorca – and this year he became a husband, to partner Jörn Weisbrodt.
Although all of these events have informed Wainwright's recent work, the loss of his mother remains the most keenly felt on stage. A choral acapella version of Candles, the final track on his current album, provided a requiem-like opening to the show, in which Rufus tries to light a candle in Kate's memory, only to find that his nearest three churches have run out of supplies (a true story, by the way). Lit from the back of the stage only, he appeared in silhouette, features masked in shadow. The solemnity of the piece felt like a throwback to Rufus's last show here: still raw with grief back then, performing the bleak song cycle All Days Are Nights in almost complete darkness.
Mercifully for us all, the mood swiftly lifted. The lights went up, the band struck up, and Rufus reverted to more familiar type. "This is where I usually say that I look like Rupert the Bear", he grinned, pointing to his cherry waistcoat, custard yellow shirt and tight, golf-checked slacks. "But there's a little bit of Robin Hood going on here tonight. I'm like his gay cousin: Gary Hood."
Produced by Mark Ronson, best known for his work on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, Rufus's seventh studio album, Out of the Game, is a Seventies-inspired collection with contemporary pop touches. The songs feel lighter, less ornate, less showboaty and show-tuney – but if truth be told, they also feel somewhat overshadowed by the magnificence of the Wainwright back catalogue, as the late-set double whammy of The Art Teacher and Going to a Town made clear. Of the new songs, Montauk made for a neat summary of Rufus's altered domestic situation: sung to daughter Viva, with mentions of "second dad" Jörn (the couple married in Montauk this summer) and the late Kate McGarrigle ("now a shadow, but she does wait for us in the ocean").
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Further musical tributes to Kate were provided by backing singer Krystle Warren (whose solo set opened the evening) and singer/guitarist Teddy Thompson, also a fine solo performer in his own right. There were more covers later in the set, from Rufus's father Loudon Wainwright III (One Man Guy, whose lyrics took on a whole new meaning) and his father-in-law Leonard Cohen. For the latter, a tango-fied take on Everybody Knows, second support Adam Cohen returned to the stage, to pay his own tribute to his father, bringing the total number of onstage sons of veteran singer-songwriters to three. (Lest we forget, Teddy Thompson's father Richard is returning to the same venue next year.)
For the encore, a beefed-up Cupid emerged from the wings, complete with loincloth, wings and bow. Mere words couldn't do justice to the insanity which ensued; let's just say that it involved Greek gods, a crowd invasion, a stage invasion, a smiting, a coming out, giant grapes and a singing salami sandwich. It was a suitably riotous end to a show which ran the gamut of emotions, from tragedy to farce, all delivered with consummate style by one of pop's most unpredictable performers.
Set list: Candles, Rashida, Barbara, April Fools, The One You Love, Grey Gardens, Saratoga Summer Song (Teddy Thompson), I Don't Know (Krystle Warren), Respectable Dive, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, Out of the Game, Jericho, Perfect Man, One Man Guy, Everybody Knows, The Art Teacher, Going to a Town, Montauk, 14th Street. Encore: Old *****'s Diet, Bitter Tears, Gay Messiah.