JJJJ Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
For a while there, it looked like popular music was losing Rufus Wainwright to all-consuming opera projects. His second opera, Hadrian – “local” connections acknowledged to this typically adoring audience – will premiere this autumn in Toronto, but thankfully Wainwright is already on to plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his debut self-titled album with a retrospective tour next year.
The enfant terrible of melodramatic minstrelsy is now greying of beard, but still youthful of phizog as he squeezed in a bijou summer solo tour with an off-the-cuff flair surpassing many artists’ most-considered efforts.
Wearing a shiny waistcoat/trousers combo he likely threw on in a trice, he delivered “a full plate of Rufusness”, opening with one of his earliest numbers, Beauty Mark, and spanning instant classics from his breakthrough albums Want One and Want Two such as the longing Vibrate, “racy” Gay Messiah and intoxicating Art Teacher, right up to a couple of beautiful new songs which augur well for his forthcoming next pop record – in particular, the breezy Peaceful Afternoon, which displayed some of his father Loudon’s wit and wordplay.
These were delivered either solo at the piano or predominantly on an acoustic guitar which he tuned in cavalier fashion.
However, the performance was spontaneous rather than slapdash, with just the right amount of repartee before he would launch into yet another exquisite ode.
Once in the performance, all was in service to the song – and that included his one throwaway number, “a Trump thing” he semi-rapped (“Trump, you’re a chump”) over a backing track, while a rather butch, gyrating Melania proxy made a chaotic cameo appearance. Wainwright is as partial to a theatrical interlude as the next drama queen, even if the slapstick sat a little awkwardly next to heartfelt confessionals such as Going To A Town (a far more eloquent takedown of the state of the States).
Yet such silliness was confidently followed by one of the evening’s highlights, an assured canter through Leonard Cohen’s So Long Marianne, which was neatly paired with Montauk, his sweet missive to the daughter he fathered with Cohen’s daughter Lorca.
Cohen figured again in the encore. Wainwright has some claim to the completely overexposed Hallelujah, having first recorded it for the original Shrek soundtrack. Even so, he fluffed the lyrics – but it wouldn’t be a Wainwright show if everything was executed to perfection.
Emotion over technique every time.