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Rufus Wainwright, London Palladium review - superb musicianship and a warm welcome | reviews, news & interviews

Rufus Wainwright, London Palladium review - superb musicianship and a warm welcome

Rufus Wainwright, London Palladium review - superb musicianship and a warm welcome

No Grammy, but Wainwright hits a peak

The return of Rufus

Rufus Wainwright believes opera to be “the greatest art form that has ever existed on the planet” and of course he’s written an opera himself – Prima Donna, which has been described as “the work of a man who loves opera and the sensations it delivers, without understanding how it is paced, or how it generates dramatic tension”.

Maybe so, but Wainwright certainly knows how to pace a concert, and the performance he gives borders on the operatic, pushing his voice to highs and lows that seem sometimes to defy the odds. And he knows how to be on stage, using his body to dramatic effect, most notably when he’s at the piano: as a song closes, he holds a pose for some seconds, head tilted backwards, perfectly still, eyes gazing heavenward. He surely loves the sound of his own voice – you don’t sense a man given to self-doubt, not these days anyway, and though he has a nice line in self-deprecation you know he doesn’t really mean it. And he knows that we know he doesn’t really mean it. It’s Rufus, the guy with a large crown motif and the initial R on the back of his jacket!

Yet there’s no denying his prodigious talent and the concert he gave at the London Palladium, the penultimate in a UK tour that began in Edinburgh, was mesmerising. It was also generous, well over two hours, and he was as pleased to see us as we were to see him. The thanks for our turning up seemed heartfelt. A break from the road is nice, for a while, but performers need to perform. And Wainwright is certainly a performer.

The Unfollow the Rules tour was intended to feature a ten-piece band, but Wainwright was making do with three, who prove that less is definitely more. Jacob Mann on piano, Alan Hampton on double bass and ukulele and musical director Brian Green on guitar are all first-rate musicians, with the main himself playing piano or guitar on all but a handful of songs. They made a beautiful noise that was perfectly miked, everything in balance, nothing overwhelmed.

The album of course featured prominently, “Trouble in Paradise” opening the show, followed by “Damsel in Distress” and then the title track, the flow briefly interrupted by a well-rehearsed rap about how first Covid and then James Taylor had upended Wainwright’s plans, the latter depriving him of the Grammy. “Early Morning Madness” came late in the show, a performance of astonishing power and angst, Wainwright’s crashing, dissonant piano giving way to Green’s guitar. He unveiled “Secret Sister”, a compelling song written for the documentary Rebel Hearts, about an order of activist nuns in LA, closed down by the Vatican (“they became nun-existent” he quipped, in his cheesily punning intro) and with whom he had a real-life family connection.

“Going to a Town”, written during the second Bush presidency, and “Hatred” (inspired by Gluck’s opera Armide) made for a powerful climax, reached by way of a wide-ranging programme that featured Sandy Denny’s  “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, learned from Richard Thompson on “a folk cruise”; a duet with opera singer Janis Kelly, his leading lady, on “The Last Rose of Summer”, in honour of his mother; and a generous helping from his album Northern Stars, songs by Canadian singer-songwriters in honour of Canada’s 150th. That selection included an upbeat “So Long, Marianne” by Leonard Cohen, whose daughter, Lorca, is the mother of his daughter Viva.

Wainwright’s ever-flexible voice is always on-pitch and precisely controlled and it has the quality of a reed instrument, perhaps an oboe. There were moments when I was reminded of Roy Orbison, though the histrionics and drama of his songs was always more concise. And the chronically shy Big O would never have worn red sparkly shoes.

Wainwright’s ever-flexible voice is always on-pitch and precisely controlled

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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