Rufus Wainwright swans on stage all matinée-idol looks, grabs an acoustic guitar and slips into "Release the Stars", the title track from his luxuriant new album. His languid, supple vocals glide around an octave-vaulting chorus, declaring "Hollywood is over". The irony is that this vivid, atmospheric and deliriously camp show evokes pure 1950s Hollywood. The show is part Garland at Carnegie Hall, part Sinatra at the Sands, part Liberace at Caesars Palace and part Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley playing a 1920s Berlin cabaret club.
"I'm giving Joan Collins a run for her money," says Wainwright, patting the padded shoulders of a silvery star-spangled suit adorned with diamanté brooches as he switches to a grand piano on a stage lit by glinting mirror balls and smoke-filled spotlights.
Wainwright's superb seven-piece band interprets the album's lush, baroque pop with easy big-band swing and an intricate New Orleans ragtime feel. "Slideshow" highlights Wainwright's vocal pyrotechnics against scraping guitars and explosive bursts of brass.
A self-regarding musical polymath, Wainwright could be accused of narcissism. But this is undercut by self-deprecating humour, an astute awareness of his vulnerability and a deep connection with his audience. He can reach in and twist your heart, the surface razzle-dazzle masking a mournful inner core. Like a latter-day Scott Walker, he sounds recklessly out of time, his complex, reflective songs more attuned to Harold Arlen and opera than the likes of Justin Timberlake.
After a break, he returns in lederhosen and a tartan hat, leading a rousing vocal charge into "Do I Disappoint You", laced with multi-layered harmonies and brilliant, brittle guitar breaks. For the encore, he wears a bathrobe, stilettos, a black fedora, diamanté earrings and lipstick. A final disrobing reveals the black jacket and tights of Garland's iconic outfit as the band twirl around him in tuxedos, the finale to a bold, odd, melancholic yet joyous show.
Touring to 1 November (www.rufuswainwright.com)Reuse content