Wainwright in feathers from a 2010 London appearance. Photo: Kasia Bobula 2010
Rufus Wainwright has always had a flair for the dramatic. And lately that’s taken him farther and farther away from the mainstream of contemporary popular song with side trips into a full-length opera, 2009’s Prima Donna
, and a variety of other music and theater ventures. His most recent recording All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
might seem to return to a simpler model with its stripped down piano and vocals. Written during the course of some difficult months leading up to the death of his mother earlier this year, the recording is certainly introspective if not always easily accessible. And yet, when Wainwright appears on stage in his current U.S. tour as he did at the Greek Theater in L.A. on Friday, it's clear that his recent interest in pursuing theatrical avenues outside of conventional pop formats continues unabated.
The first half of the show, as the nearly half empty Greek Theater was told, would consist of a single song cycle that Wainwright requested be uninterrupted by applause or photography. He then appeared dressed in a gauzy black robe trimmed with black feathers and a train trailing him across the stage as he slowly approached the piano where he launched into All Days Are Nights
in its chronological entirety. By presenting a work in a format perhaps more familiar to followers of classical music such as a song recital and recasting himself as an artist closer to Liszt than Elton John, Wainwright was asking for trouble. It’s an ambitious presentation of an ambitious work that could not have arrived in a less appropriate venue than the beer-swilling, outdoor home for summer music in L.A. The crowd was certainly respectful, but the pretension of the presentation complete with video, frequently ran the risk of overwhelming the beautiful songs.
The songs themselves from All Days Are Nights
are often quite good. But as Wainwright branches out into more demanding and varied musical fields one begins to wonder if his own skills as a performer are up to the task. I mean I love the songs of Benjamin Britten but no one, including Britten, wanted to hear him sing them himself. Wainwright often pushes for notes well out of his range and his playing can be more than a little sloppy at times. This first quite serious segment of the show seemed like it was only halfway to where it needed to go.
The second set, featured a notably brighter, sunnier, and more loquacious Wainwright as well as the familiar songs presented in a familiar fashion. The shift in tenor into the second act was a bit steep, but not unenjoyable, especially considering that Wainwright had much firmer control of his vocal and musical resources here. His sister Martha Wainwright, who also opened the show, joined him at times onstage. She’s just completed a new recording, Sans Fusils Ni Souliers A Paris
, of Edith Piaf covers that isn’t currently available in the U.S. Which is really a shame considering how lovely her samplings of them were at the start of the evening. Luckily we live in the world of the intertubes or whatever you want to call it so you can order it here
Labels: Rufus Wainwright