Rufus Wainwright

 

Vicar Street, Dublin ***

“This is going to be a back-and-forth through my illustrious career of possible hits,” deadpans Rufus Wainwright as he takes a seat at his grand piano. It’s true that the Montréal-raised songwriter – attired in the sort of garish yellow-checked trousers last seen on Rupert the Bear – has never really broken into the mainstream, but the fact that he’s playing to a packed house for his second Irish gig in four months speaks volumes about his loyal fanbase, at least.

Wainwright may not mention his recent life changes (fatherhood, his recent marriage or the death of his mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle) in his between-song patter, but his new songs, recorded with superstar pop producer Mark Ronson, effortlessly address those topics. A compelling a cappella version of Candles opens the gig, while the slinky jazz-bar vibe of Respectable Dive and the crystalline sweetness of Montauk continue the themes of life, love and death.

Yet there are some niggling criticisms with the sound, as the band’s instruments occasionally threatening to overpower Wainwright’s swarthy vocals. Backing singer Krystle Warren threatens to upstage her employer, too, with a remarkable cover of the McGarrigle Sisters’ I Don’t Know, but Rufus quickly regains the reins with startlingly simplistic piano ballad The Art Teacher. There are humorous pot-shots taken at everyone from Liza Minnelli (followed by a cover of her mother Judy Garland’s The Man That Got Away) to Mitt Romney, while the singer’s penchant for theatricality continues into the encore, when he emerges in a blonde wig and skimpy toga as “Rufus Apollo, god of all things sexy”.

Roving the aisles singing Gay Messiah, his intention to entertain is acknowledged – but another two or three songs in place of the pantomime-style silliness would have been more heartily appreciated. It’s an unfortunate end to an otherwise stirring show.
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