Wednesday, 14 April 2010

MUSIC: Rufus Wainwright @ Sadler's Wells - 13 April 2010

Cracking jokes about Wagner and Alistair Crowe and being appropriately arrogant and self-deprecating about his own debut as opera writer Rufus Wainwright presented his new upcoming record - All Days Are Night: Songs For Lulu - in London last night, in a concert as uncompromising and awe-inspiring as ever.

The new album is equally inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets and by Louise Brooks' rendition of Lulu, directed by Pabst. It is a musically-sparse, heartwrenching record, with Wainwright at the piano without any orchestra, unlike his previous, grand album Release The Stars. The new songs took up the first half of his performance at Sadler's Wells, sung in order and without breaks, in costume, surrounded by bits of the set for Prima Donna, all very theatrical. Of the dozen of times I have seen Wainwright in concert (yes, long-time fan here) I don't think I've ever heard his voice sound so well - sharp and healthy and powerful. He gets better and better each year. Despite his frequent false-starts and fuck-ups (more in the second half of the show) he is also a very compelling pianist. Even if the evening lacked his guitar-based classics ("California" or "Gay Messiah" I missed the most) it was a memorable chance to see a piano-only concert from Wainwright.

The new songs are spectacular and highlights included the rendering of Shakespeare's "A Woman's Face" and the ode of an old high school crush, "Zebulon". It's still too new an album to review it properly - by the time I see Wainwright at Oxford next month, or in the Kenwood House concert series in July, I will be more able to go past the "Oh My God! New Rufus Wainwright music!" stage that comes with each new released material. The new stuff is more direct but no less poetic; it shows Wainwright's determination of stepping out his comfort zone every time he seems successful with a formula. After flying as high as he could with the baroque and full of light Release The Stars it seems like Wainwright goes back to the basic, to see if his songs can work at their minimal expression. Only the true artist is so restless.

The second half of the show was more informal: Rufus Wainwright, out of coustume, and speaking to the audience, joking and moaning and laughing (& sharing one genuine moment of emotion as he talked about her late mother, the folk singer Kate McGarrigle). The playlist was compelling, oddly nostalgic in ways (he played "Millbrook", "Foolish Love") and even surprising. The real highlight of the night (apart from Wainwright covering one of his mother's songs) was "Dinner at Eight", chosen by the fans to be performed through the artist's official website.

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