In turbulent times, it’s unquestionably soothing to be faced with a golden-voiced singer alone in concert on just a grand piano. Yet Rufus Wainwright is a worldly sort, and he couldn’t resist drawing us back to the present. Preceding one gorgeous French-language piece taken from his opera Prima Donna, which opens in Paris next June, he joked “you’re still in the European Union, go while you have a chance.”
Rufus Wainwright ****
Concert Hall, Perth
As for the US election, the American-Canadian singer (and child of the songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle) seemed unable to contain his reaction. “I don’t feel like anybody is really listening to each other,” he sighed during what he referred to as “The Speech” in verbal quotation marks, “I want to apologise on behalf of America.” The following song, Going to a Town, was just as pointed: “I’m going to a town that has already been burnt down… I’m so tired of America.”
Yet there was also hope in his response, and in his music. Wainwright’s voice is like crystal, world-weary but spiking with emotion during The Maker Makes, Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk and the pensive chords of Zebulon (the line “I believe in freedom” sounded particularly emphatic).
That voice is an instrument most effectively complemented by piano, with his ragged acoustic guitar on tracks like California doing it no favours, and the closing version of Hallelujah (“Trump was trumped by the death of Leonard Cohen,” he observed wryly) revealing it at its most devastatingly effective.