Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rufus Wainwright, York Grand Opera House: 16/05/05

Yes, it's this guy again. But he's worth it, believe me. In fact, don't believe, just get over to Amazon; buy, listen, and fall in love.

Two shows on the same tour may be extravagant for a student, but I couldn't have Mr. Wainwright come to York and not make some sort of effort to see him. The show had been sold out for weeks, but many phone calls and visits to the box office finally paid off when, at 5:30 on the evening of the performance, the staff took my phone number in case a ticket became available. Two hours of staring into a coffee cup at Burger King later, I was sat in the beautiful auditorium of the York Grand Opera house, finally getting excited about a gig I had never really believed I would get to. Yet there I was, surrounded by an audience of 40 and 50-somethings, all into their music, a Bob Dylan collection at home and a son away at university (this I gleaned from one conversation, but it seemed representative).

Last time, I was on such a high about Rufus' performance that his opening act didn't get into my blog. Joan Wasser - performing under the name 'Joan As Police Woman' - has an undeniably remarkable voice; it soars and reaches places it shouldn't be able to, quite frankly. The lyrics to her piano or guitar led songs (she's one of those sickening mulitinstrumentalists) are very funny at times, mainly poignant and important and, wonderfully, generally not as obscure as a woman with her obvious intellect could get bogged down in. Melodically, her tracks are far from straightforward, though and therefore quite difficult to listen to and fully 'get' on first listen. At this gig, I recognised melodies from the Nottingham show, and it started to come together. She's a great talent, undoubtedly, and has a great, endearing stage presence, both "as" police woman, and as a backing vocalist when Rufus comes on.

Rufus himself was on top form, once again, but this was a different Rufus to the one we saw sighing, laughing to himself about saying "I'm in the R0bin Hood hood!". Nottingham Rufus was playful and fantastically camp throughout. York Rufus was Rufus as stand-up comedian. On various occasions he strutted from his piano to the microphone, grabbed it with one hand, thrust the other into his pocket and launched into a shaggy dog story about his childhood or some obscure musician's declining fashion sense: "He started wearing really standard clothes. There's one picture of him with jeans and a t-shirt and just an enormous brooch. Hence the small brooch today". Of course, Rufus...

The music was as brilliant as ever - the band is stunning; especially, I must say, the inventive drummer and the backing singers. Rufus' backing vocals are hugely important to his sound, and I often think they get the best part in many of the songs! The highlight of the evening was probably the breathtakingly huge 'Beautiful Child' from Want One - quite literally breathtaking for Rufus, who had to calm himself with a few huge gulps of air before settling into 'Memphis Skyline'. Rufus isn't mainstream, and most probably never will be, but you wouldn't have known it from this evening. The first few bars of 'Vibrate' were met with whoops and cheers, as though Paul McCartney had just launched into 'Hey Jude' and the audience collectively shuffled with excitement as 'Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk' began. In fact the only time Rufus seemed close to losing the audience was when he told us that the Yorkshire Pudding he'd had that day was "awful"! That's blasphemy, and was met with the boos it deserved.

As for the thong, the baby boomer audience didn't know where to look.

I've said it before, and I'll say again, but with Rufus Wainwright, you certainly get your money’s worth. High campery, a comedy routine, and, most important of all, over two hours in the company of a man who is quite possibly the finest songwriter of our time.

1 comment:

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Yeah! You see, your reviews are FAB! Wonderful blog, especially your remarks about the coffee and the much-dreamt-of ticket, and the "crowd of 40 and 50-somethings". Ahem. Can I say I just qualify to not be in that bracket (though my fellow Nottingham visitors to Rufus land do fall into that dread category!)

It is interesting though how you note his different style of performing. And how the audience responds as if he were a huge star (rather than the much critically acclaimed but rather moderate commercial success that he is). Certainly I have often found that the popularity or mainstream status of an artiste has little impact on how fervently a crowd can greet their work: what it can affect is the venue size. Rufus appears to be moving up a gear and that does concern me on one level: I think his style works best in something moderate to intimate. For all his showmanship, he's not a stadium performer and I hope that he continues to play these sorts of venues.

Glad to see also your praise for Joan. You're right about her stuff lacking the immediacy of Rufus's work, but musically and lyrically her work is very intriguing and beautifully structured. I suspect you're right to find more in her performance when seeing her for a second time.

And as a final thought, no, it ain't extravagant to go twice on the same tour. Doing my PhD I did multiple visits to the National Theatre to see Douglas Henshall in The Coast of Utopia (Tom Stoppard). Saw "Voyage" five times and two double visits to see the second and third plays. And because the National at the time only defined young people under 25s and not students I got busted to pay full price. Grr. And all those Pulp gigs I did... ah halcyon days!