Music review: Rufus Wainwright, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Rufus WainwrightRufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright
Fresh from touring Edinburgh’s graveyards, Rufus Wainwright performed a stripped back, low-key set at the Usher Hall, writes David Pollock

Rufus Wainwright, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ***

In April 2020 Rufus Wainwright had intended to release Unfollow the Rules, his first traditional album-format collection in eight years, after experiments with opera and adapting Shakespeare’s sonnets. “I was also going to win a Grammy,” he noted here, with typically dry humour. “Then two things happened, Covid and James Taylor.”

The album (which was Grammy-nominated, at least) was released last summer, and when touring wasn’t possible, Wainwright re-recorded it live alongside some of his classic songs at the Paramour Ballroom in Los Angeles, for last month’s Unfollow the Rules: The Paramour Sessions album.

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The plan had been to tour the original album with “a big ten-piece band and full sets”, but what we got here, the day after Wainwright’s arrival from LA and a bit of weary exploration of Edinburgh’s graveyards (including “Hume’s tomb,” he noted excitedly) was the Paramour version. Practically, that meant a pianist, electric guitarist and double bassist backing Wainwright as a trio, with no more elaborate stage-dressing than the distinctive suits all were wearing, which he proudly noted were by the New York-based Glaswegian singer and design consultant Angela McCluskey.

There are some beauties on the new record which stood out here alongside favourites like Going to a Town, including the amusingly-delivered ode to relative fame You’re Not Big, the mournful reflection on redevelopment and the environment Romantical Man, and Only the People That Love, conceived during the last American administration (“whatever that was… this is dedicated to everyone except one person”).

This was Rufus Redux, the stripped-back, low-key version, a taster of the promised big band spectacular. Yet few contemporary singers have voices less in need of window-dressing than the son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. Throughout, the audience were treated to covers of Neil Young’s Harvest, Leonard Cohen’s So Long, Marianne and Fairport Convention’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes, and while he may not have matched the beauty of the originals, he’s one of the few artists whose vocal power and precision allows him to get away with trying.

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