Review: The best of Rufus Wainwright (maybe)

Rufus Wainwright (photo by CJ Foeckler)

I think Rufus Wainwright is the artist I’ve seen perform live the most – maybe 9 or 10 times? I mean, I don’t follow him around the country or anything (yet), but if he’s playing within a reasonable distance from me, I will go see him. Oh, I suppose I did fly to London once to see him at the Palladium but that was special. Oh, and maybe that one other time in San Francisco but I also went to Alcatraz so technically I’m calling that one a vacation and it’s not like I flew to San Francisco just to see Rufus Wainwright because I’m not a crazy person. Anyway, I’ve seen him a lot. Partly this is because I think he’s an outstanding musician and songwriter, but also because he’s an amazing character when he’s performing. He’s clever and charming and funny and talks just enough to give you delicious tidbits about his life and the music and touring, but not so much as to be annoying. He’s also a skilled musician and his style on his albums isn’t overproduced so you get a great show in person that sounds very much like what you get on the album, but better, really.

He played in Austin at the Paramount and Stateside Theater which is an amazing one hundred-year-old venue downtown — really beautiful and a stellar sound for modern performances in a theater of that age. Wainwright tends to bring out interesting people so prior to the show I was just chilling, chatting to the people around me, looking around, enjoying the general ambiance and then HOLY SHIT I’M SITTING NEXT TO JOHN WATERS. Obviously I’m using the phrase “sitting next to” loosely, as I was in the mezzanine and John Waters was in a private box, but I was right next to him you guys, for real, and it was definitely close enough for someone to say loudly “Hey, John Waters! John Waters! Hey! Big fan! Huge! Huge fan!” while waving maniacally, if someone were so inclined to do that, but not me, because I’m not a crazy person, as stated above. Totally didn’t do that, you guys.

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The Paramount Theater (see how close I was to John Waters!)

Anyway, the show. As far as Rufus Wainwright shows I’ve seen, this one was more or less, “meh.” It was billed as the Best of Rufus Wainwright, and it was very clear it was a solo show – no band, just Wainwright with a piano and guitar – so I wasn’t surprised at that setup. But I was a bit surprised at just how lackluster it came off, at least when compared to other Wainwright shows I’ve seen. To be clear, lackluster Wainwright is still better than about 90% of all other shows with any number of people and performance accompaniments, but so much more subdued than what I’ve come to expect. I guess if he appears in anything less than a fully sequined suit, I’m a little let down. In fact, he joked about how dowdily he was dressed (at least for him) but then noted that his sweater was Vivian Westwood, so maybe not that dowdily.

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What I did like, however, is that he’s promoting his latest album which is a best of, so each song was great. Which frankly, is what every concert-goer ever really wants, isn’t it? Nobody wants to hear the new album; I don’t care how big of a fan you are. We want the stuff we know and love. And I also liked hearing different arrangements of those songs, which the solo versions of a lot of these were. It was definitely a leaner version of most of his hits, but he sells it whether he’s on stage with a full band or there by himself, at least to someone who’s a big fan. And economically I can’t fault him – in touring alone he must be cleaning up compared to touring how he usually does.

If this had been the first time I’d seen Wainwright perform live, I would have been left somewhat unimpressed, but I suppose from my perspective as someone who’s seen him several times, it was actually interesting in a different light. He was still engaging and witty and his distinctly nasal voice is still superb, but I wouldn’t recommend the show to someone who’s unfamiliar with his work, because they totally wouldn’t understand where the fandom that surrounds Wainwright comes from.

After the show, I made a beeline for the stairway from the private boxes and John Waters and I had a six-sentence conversation and HE IS NOW MY BEST FRIEND.

So, a good night all around.

Tickets for Rufus Wainwrights tour can be had here.

His most recent album, the two-disc Vibrate: The Best of Rufus Wainwright can be heard here. It makes a great Rufus starter.

And a little classic Rufus…

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