Rufus Wainwright plays the Bardavon Opera House
It was a magical night at the beautifully restored Bardavon Opera House in downtown Poughkeepsie as Rufus Wainwright took the stage with nothing more than a grand piano and two guitars.
As charming as he is talented, Rufus greeted the audience and got right to business singing Beauty Mark, an homage to his mother, Kate McGarrigle, from 1998's "Rufus Wainwright" album. He very touchingly thanked the audience for their concern for him (Ms. McGarrigle, a noted singer herself, recently died from cancer).
His performance was moving; simple yet dramatic, minimalistic in terms of accompaniment but richly complex in melody.
Unlike some of his prior works which feature complex orchestration, the material he performed at this show was acoustic; less complicated, yet totally riveting. Throughout the evening, the audience marveled as he developed an elegant set of vocal tapestries, such as a hauntingly beautiful performance of The Art Teacher, featuring accompaniment on french horn by Louis Schwadron of the band Sky White Tiger that had opened the evening's show. (Those whoops you hear at the end of the number would be myself and our friend Jeffrey. We were a bit out of control, but it was terrific.)
The audience was entirely captivated, and during one set, where he played 4 different pieces from his newest work, "All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu", he asked that we not applaud after the individual pieces because they needed to have silence between; but then he jokingly encouraged us to applaud during the pieces if we wished. And just as requested, one could have heard a pin drop during the fleeting moments between the pieces (though no one would have dared drop one). Only after the fourth piece was completed did the audience offer its rousing approval.
Wainwright was particularly complimentary of his mother this evening and spoke of recording some of her songs in tribute to her. As he began to perform one particular number, he spoke positively of recognizing her presence in the wings, and he jokingly spoke as her telling him, "don't f*ck it up."
He also spoke of his musically talented father, Loudon Wainwright III, as well as his childhood spent in school in nearby Millwood and how performing at this particular venue was really performing at home.
The richness of such songs as Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk from his 2002 album "Poses" were not lost with this acoustic performance. He still manuevered every brilliantly composed twist and turn of the melody with dead-on accuracy - truly impressive. It was as if he was toying with us, much as one dangles a cut crystal before a window, painting the room with vibrant, playful color.
The end of the initial performance came all too soon. I was disappointed that he hadn't played an acoustic of Natasha, one of my personal all-time Rufus favorites from "Want One". The numbers he did play from that album, Vibrate and Want, were a bit more suited to his acoustic performance than Natasha, but I was hoping.
He was quite particular about the numbers he did play, even eschewing a couple of different numbers in tribute to his mother that he said just "weren't there yet" and that he couldn't perform them and do them justice. As I am sure the rest of the audience would have agreed, we didn't think that possible, but Wainwright is one of those people who is very demanding and largely critical of himself and his performances. Not that he should be, because his compositional and vocal styling prowess exceeds that of practically any musical performer out there today, but it is what makes him such a talent.
During the encore, after a playful protest, he performed his much-requested cover of Hallelujah, which he claimed would be one of his last live performances of the song (in fact, his third-to-last, I think) for quite some time to come. It was terrific.
Equally impressive was the final number of the encore, Les Feux d’artifice t’appellant (Fireworks Calling You) written for his opera "Prima Donna" that will be premiering in London shortly. Knowing that the audience was hanging on his every note, and approaching a quiet area in the piece that might have otherwise been mistaken for the end, he lifted his finger to his lips to discourage the audience from applauding. They dutifully complied, and the piece came off flawlessly.
This being my first live Rufus experience, I can only now understand why our friend Jeffrey is willing to travel all over the place to see him. Riveting. Truly remarkable. And many other adjectives.