You Write The Reviews: Rufus Wainwright, Wollaton Park, Nottingham
Wednesday 23 July 2008
It would be fair to say that festivals present challenges for an artist. First, they are not playing to a fully partisan crowd, and second, they are restricted by time constraints and the logistics of equipment and entourage. Festivals, then, are a measure of a performer's ability to make the conditions work for them.
Having already enjoyed a full-scale headlining Rufus Wainwright performance last year, I was interested to see how he would adapt to this more exposed format, at the Splendour in Nottingham festival. Happily, Wainwright has the gift of being able to deliver a professional programme, whatever the occasion.
For this performance, his last of a tour that has seen him zigzag across the world for more than a year, Wainwright dispensed with his usual large-scale backing band and accompanied himself on baby grand piano and guitar.
"Do I Disappoint You", "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" and "Coeur de Parisienne" quickly followed "Going to a Town" from last year's Release the Stars. Then came the rolling piano and breathless narrative of Want Two's "The Art Teacher", a song of unrequited love told from the perspective of a woman.
Wainwright's songs are, for the most part, operatic and theatrical, which can make you wonder how an audience unfamiliar with his work will react. Yet he possesses a light-hearted and confident air, which drew a warm response from the audience. He chatted openly between songs, declaring himself eager to deliver as much material as possible in a 75-minute set.
The show moved effortlessly along, but for one brief moment. Around two-thirds of the way through, Wainwright, at the piano, rolled out of one song and, without introduction, into Leonard Cohen's oft-covered "Hallelujah". At its conclusion, Wainwright seemed lost, appearing to feel the need to explain that this was not his own composition, as if embarrassed in an effort to make it clear that he was covering another artist's work. However, he quickly regained his composure, explaining that it was his own tribute to the "living legend" who has recently been playing in the UK.
Of course, there are connections between the two: both are Canadian sons of Quebec and Wainwright was at school with Cohen's daughter. Wainwright has also contributed to the Came So Far for Beauty Cohen tribute concerts. It was in this moment that we perhaps saw the patient, respectful young pretender to Cohen's station as master singer-songwriter. On this performance, you had to feel that he might have a case.
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