For Rufus Wainwright fans, this was the show they’d been looking forward to. He was singing pop, not opera, his own songs, not Judy Garland’s, he was playing with a full band, rather than solo and they were allowed to applaud….which they did often and loudly. For Rufus this was something of a triumphant return after the devastating loss of his mother, Kate McGarrigle a year and a half ago. Plus, the show in Auckland was the end of this particular leg of the tour, so there was magic in the air.
The lights in the Civic went down at nine o’clock and after a brief pause, we heard Rufus’ distinctive voice singing Candles, acapella. It was beautiful, and when it ended, the light came up and there stood Rufus looking resplendent in a white sequined jacket…I believe it is his wedding jacket…and a pair of gaudy, cheap white sunglasses. Perfect!
Wainwright’s band was with him, and what a fine group of musicians they were. Standing to his right, playing guitar and singing backing vocals was Teddy Thompson, who is a terrific artist in his own right. On his left was lead guitarist Sharief Hobley. Behind Sharief stood bass player and musical director Brad Albetta, who is also Rufus’ brother-in-law (he’s married to Martha). Across the stage from Brad was keyboard player Andy Burton who provided many of the musical highlights of the evening. Behind him were two backing singers, Krystle Warren (who had just entertained the audience with an opening set of her own) and the striking Charysse Blackman. Anchoring the group was drummer Ben Perowsky.
Rufus and the band proceeded with two more songs from his excellent new album, Out Of The Game, then went back to 1998 for April Fools, from his self-titled debut. Rufus was in excellent voice and humour. He charmed the audience as he clumsily strapped on an acoustic guitar for one song, and then took to the piano to play, what he triumphantly referred to as his “hit”, 2002’s Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk.
After that, came two songs from the film, A Celebration Of Kate McGarrigle, that recently played here at the NZ Film Festival. Krystle Warren reprised her performance of I Don’t Know and Teddy Thompson took centre stage to sing McGarrigle’s Saratoga Summer Song. While Warren was excellent, it was Thompson who really did it for me with the quality of his voice and the simplicity of his delivery. Here’s hoping he’ll be here for his own show sometime soon.
After four more songs from Out Of The Game, Rufus performed one of the tracks from Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall. Although the song is titled The Man That Got Away, Wainwright changed “man” to “bitch” in honour of Liza Minnelli, who apparently disparaged his recording, and also claimed to have not heard it. For this number, Rufus was accompanied by piano, bass and drum. I’m not sure what Liza’s problem was, because Rufus nailed the jazz tune.
What followed turned out to be the highlight for me…Teddy, Rufus and Charysse lined up at the front of the stage to sing Loudon Wainwright III’s (Rufus’ dad) One Man Guy. Rufus took the first verse, Teddy the second, then Charysse. But it was when the three of them sang in harmony that the song really soared. They sounded fantastic, and who knew Rufus could hit that low note at the end?
Leading up to the end of the 90-minute set, Rufus sang The Art Teacher solo, before bringing the band back for Going To A Town. Montauk was dedicated to his daughter, Viva, and again was utterly charming. “One day you will come to Montauk, and see you dad playing the piano, and see your other dad wearing glasses, hope that you will want to stay”.
The set closed with 14th Street.
And then the real fun began. After a short break (and much applause), Teddy, Ben, Andy and Brad came out and announce that they were looking for Rufus. As it turned out they were stalling for time so that Rufus and the rest of the band could change into their costumes. Finally, an MC, dressed only in a “diaper” and white angel wing appeared and cheered the crowd and the band on. Charysse came on dressed in a fetching gold “Cleopatra”-style getup while Rufus was working a white toga and ridiculous blonde wig.
With the disco beat of Bitter Tears pumping, Rufus went into the crowd running through the front aisles of the once-proud Civic. By the time they got to Gay Messiah, a good portion of first few rows where up on stage dancing with Rufus and the band. It’s about as wild a scene as I’ve witnessed at the usually staid Civic. This Bacchanalian celebration went on for about 20 minutes, before order was restored and everyone went home happy. An excellent way to end a show and a tour!