Rufus Wainwright's electric performance at Benaroya Hall
 

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posted Friday, November 13, 2009 - Volume 37 Issue 46

Rufus Wainwright's electric performance at Benaroya Hall
by Ron Anders - SGN Contributing Writer

Rufus Wainwright
November 8
Benaroya
Hall


About 20 minutes into his set at Benaroya Hall, Rufus Wainwright jokingly hinted that he might have a touch of the flu. If this troubadour was indeed feeling poorly, you could never tell by the electric performance he gave to an adoring audience on Sunday.

Bouncing onstage with a sparkly scarf accenting his understated black ensemble, he was an endearing mixture of shyness and bravado; seemingly humbled by the size of the hall, he slyly acknowledged that he was fabulous enough to fill it.

I am a relatively new Rufus admirer, having my first taste of him from the DVD of his Judy Garland tribute concert, which he debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2006. Re-creating Garland's legendary 1961 show - song for song, with a full orchestra - was a brazen act of showbiz chutzpah which could easily have turned into an egomaniacal disaster. Instead, it was warmly received as a genuine celebration of a Gay icon by an ardent Queer admirer from a very different generation.

The concert that unfolded in Seattle was a much less glamorous affair - Wainwright accompanied himself on piano and guitar - but his kinetic, flirtatious stage presence supplied enough heat to keep the crowd mesmerized. For this writer, it affirmed his status as an often brilliant, artistically ambitious entertainer. He treated his acolytes to a broad sampling of his catalogue, starting with a yearning-tinged "Grey Gardens," followed by the haunting "The Maker Makes," his ballad featured in Brokeback Mountain. A favorite of mine, "Sanssouci," was a jolt of ballroom-dance melody.

In live performance, Wainwright's vocal power and range were startlingly dynamic. While he seems to strain for the high notes on some recordings, he reached them effortlessly in this concert. His songs are rich in literary and pop culture references (both Pinocchio and Britney Spears are cited in "Vibrate"), but are never dry - always playful. "Zebulon" (from an album-in-progress) and "The Art Teacher" were poignant odes of unrequited schoolboy crushes. The highlight of the evening was a powerful take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," sung as a duet with Joan Wasser, whose set opened the evening. (You can see/hear it in the Leonard Cohen bio-doc I'm Your Man.)

The child of folk music deities Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Rufus' future as a prodigy was assured - and his risky ventures into classic pop and opera (Prima Donna, which makes its North American debut next year) have branded him a trailblazer whose mischievous, puppy-dog insouciance masks a courageous musical adventurer.



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