Rufus Wainwright is the Jekyll and Hyde of the modern-day music scene – on one hand bursting with pleasantries, effusive and adorable in the extreme, on the other, dour, introspective, angry and indulgent.
His Albert Hall concert embodied both of these sides, opening with his latest song cycle, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, culled from the madrigal tradition but imbued with all the soaring wistfulness that he and his soulful pipes are so renowned for.
His fans were enthralled, fazed neither by his Kabuki bad-guy outfit (a flowing black cape and oversized yoke) nor his insistence (relayed via posters and stage crew) that there be no applause throughout the entire first half. His glowering when a lone pair of hands dared to disobey was terrifying to watch. His voice however was faultless, his playing impeccable.
Making an audience sit through drawn-out personal and creative whimsy should not usually be attempted. But this is what Wainwright's crowd live for – the virtuosity, the intensity and the bombast of the singer is to be admired and, should it take your fancy, indulged. But if you like your Wainwright light, acoustic and jaunty, the first half was like watching one's favourite children's TV presenter trying to act out Chekhov.
Thankfully, sister Martha was on hand as the warm-up act, stunning the crowd with her warm and syrupy vocals and fluid and irreverent sense of humour and occasion. She even attempted to sing "La Vie en Rose" sans microphone, belting it out into the void like a strident child.
The second half was full of Waiwnright's Judy Garland numbers, some Piaf classics and big tracks, such as "The Art Teacher". He is beautiful to watch and his talent a joy to hear – this time, the audience truly felt they were allowed to enjoy what was going on, rather than enduring it. This is Wainwright's great strength – sweeping the crowd wholesale into his own world. But whether he lets you have fun in it or not is entirely his call.