Pop & Jazz: Live: Nice and sleazy
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT EMBASSY ROOMS LONDON
Friday 21 May 1999
In Rufus Wainwright's case, it's easy. Son of folk singer Loudon Wainwright III, much-vaunted as the next Bob Dylan, and Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle sisters, Wainwright couldn't be more different from his parents - though he is sure to enjoy equal success.
In these days of ostentatious technical wizardry, there's nothing more dramatic than the sight of a man in a flimsy T-shirt and jeans seated at a grand piano in front of a sea of lamp-lit tables. "I feel like I'm in the Moulin Rouge," announced Wainwright, taking in the backdrop of red velvet and twinkling lights. The scene before us perfectly reflected the old-fashioned simplicity of Wainwright's debut album. Even with its lyrical beauty and black humour, the most extraordinary thing about the record is that it was made in this decade. The 26-year-old singer-songwriter owes more to the show-tune traditions of Gershwin and Gilbert and Sullivan than the folk of his parents. During "Foolish Love", an eerie elegy about the short-lived nature of love that is seamlessly transformed into a thigh- slapping show tune halfway through, you half expected a line of dancing sailors to appear from behind the curtains.
A sense of urgency underpinned Wainwright's crooning, as he imbued each word with an almost overwrought intensity. His most tragic moments echoed the visceral tones of Jeff Buckley, but rounded off with a winning Judy Garland trill. And despite his years, his songs were brimful of adolescent melodrama. When he wasn't fantasising about glamorous ways of dying, he was offering us his wounded heart to be examined and admired.
The uncompromising old-fashionedness of Wainwright's sound was reinforced by melodramatic piano arrangements which evoked a host of matinee idol clinches, though the cabaret-style melodies and barbed lyrics call to mind something considerably more sleazy. Buried in the cotton-wool balladry of "In My Arms", came the line "Wish you were here to chain you up without shame", delivered by Wainwright with a mischievously raised eyebrow.
Some songs sorely missed the louche glamour of his recorded material, mostly due to the absence of a string section, but Wainwright managed to keep things moving by sporadically picking up a guitar and bringing on guest singers.
The audience seemed to draw a collective breath as he brought on his mother to join him in some harmonies. Her voice was weak next to her son's, but it was a touching sight none the less. It seemed Wainwright's music was not the only thing at odds with his contemporaries. This guy loved his mother as well.
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Three million books were judged by their covers - this is what happened
The Gamechangers trailer: Daniel Radcliffe stars in GTA movie
Joan Aiken: Today's Google Doodle celebrates life of British fantasy novelist
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Jamie’s Sugar Rush, TV review: Defeated by school dinners, Oliver takes on a new enemy
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees