Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon Change World

Categories: Music

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Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright did “Across the World” at Nob Hill Masonic on Friday. Damn. All Shook Down’s Liz Iversen was there. Read on for the full write-up, and if anyone has the video of that, ASD wants to see it. –d2

Rufus Wainwright
Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium
Friday, August 3, 2007
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From indie-rock-turned-baroque-pop star Rufus Wainwright, who could expect anything other than the over-the-top theatrical spectacle that sold out the Nob Hill Auditorium Friday Night? With its kitschy costumes, choreographed dancing, and Judy Garland renditions—not to mention an intermission—it was a wannabe-Broadway musical.

A huge American flag—with glittery flowers and butterflies in the place of stars—was an appropriate backdrop for Wainwright’s flamboyant Release the Stars tour. A full band, clad in red and white striped suits with sparkly accents, sported vaudeville-style mustaches. Opening with the new album’s cabaret-style title track, the show got off to a sleepy start despite the churning disco ball. The band was as restrained as the middle-aged crowd strapped to their assigned ticket seats, not so much as nodding their heads to the beat.

While most of Wainwright’s recent songs, such as “Tiergarten” and “Do I Disappoint You,” and are lushly orchestrated and ornamental, there were moments of intense beauty in the rare low-key songs—like the down-tempo lament, “Going to a Town.” Illuminated at the piano by the rays of a solitary light, Wainwright was stunning, with his white-suited reflection transfixed on the open piano lid. “Leaving for Paris No. 2” began with Wainwright’s soft croon over a minimalist piano intro. A plucky bass and dulcet back-up vocals crept in. Perfectly executed crescendos and dissonant chords started to build tension, and eerie overtones compounded it. In finale, Wainwright held a dramatic pause not a moment too long before resolving into the song’s final chord.

This powerful moment was broken by the pornographic power-pop of “Between My Legs.” Dressed in drag—a black teddy, nipple tassles, and a see-through skirt—audience member Veda Devoe performed a spoken word bit while Wainwright sang, “I’ll shed a tear” in the eponymous place.

Returning from intermission in lederhosen and knee-length socks, Wainwright paid tribute to Judy Garland with show tunes “A Foggy Day (in London Town)” and “If Love Were All.” Never one to miss an opportunity to show off his talent, he then stripped off his microphone to sing the old Irish song “Macushla,” an impressive feat in the 3100-capacity venue.

The pinnacle of the evening, though, was the encore. Opener Sean Lennon accompanied Wainwright on acoustic guitar and vocals for a performance of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” Their voices, melding and complimenting each other as they sang, “Jai guru deva om / Nothing’s gonna change my world” was simply amazing.

Afterwards, Wainwright sat on a folding chair and put on lipstick, high heels and earrings. In a black suit jacket (bottoms missing), black tights, and fedora, he sang another Garland favorite, “Get Happy.” His band, now dressed in snappy black suits, danced around him in true show-tune spirit.

After everything, I couldn’t help but wonder what the show would have been like had Wainwright made his last album the “bare bones affair” he had originally planned. Since Poses, he has failed to match the emotionally telling simplicity that so captivated his earliest fans.

Critic’s Notebook
Personal Bias: I sometimes listen to “Hallelujah” on repeat.
Random Detail: Approx. one in five audience members’ heads were bald.
By the Way: Wainwright still has over a dozen US shows left before taking off on his world tour. -Liz Iversen


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