This originally posted the day after Rufus Wainright’s 2009 performance at the Kimmel Center
TOP 5 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RUFUS WAINRIGHT @ THE KIMMEL
1. He’s Got Miles And Miles of Style
Dressed in clingy cranberry trousers, brown sparkly shoes tied up in bows and a cream blazer with a ruby flower broach on the lapel, his flopsy bangs shorn to Hugh-Grant-in- Four-Weddings-And-A-Funeral-length, Rufus looked hale and healthy and so happy together. Noting the balcony crowd bearing down upon him from all sides, he declared: “I feel like I’m on trial…and I’m winning the case.” The jury of his peers would acquit him handsomely, awarding him two standing ovations by the night’s end. More importantly, his swooning woman of a voice has come a long way, baby, and never sounded better. And his vibrato remains a staggering work of heartbreaking genius.
2. It’s What White People Were Doing Last Night
Rufus is for lovers: Boys who like boys, girls who like girls, boys who like girls and girls who like boys. Young, old, everyone in between. Basically anyone who’s ever had a heart break apart in their hands and learned the hard way that you can jigsaw back together, with patience and the glue of time, but it will never be the same again. It’s like bypass surgery or Cupid’s arrow — it may not kill you, it might even make you stronger, but it still hurts when you lay the wrong way. These are his people. And Saturday night, they were all his Valentines.
3. He Shoulda Been The Elton John Of Now
Coulda, shoulda, woulda. You could say the music biz failed him, or the business model that made Elton ‘Sir Elton’ shit the bed by the time Rufus finally got up to bat. All true, of course, but more relevant is that Rufus simply doesn’t write music with that kind of vast scope of appeal. He’s a chic boutique in a department store world fast going out of business. This he already knows. As of late he’s working on a setting-Shakespeare-sonnets-to-music project for the Germans, and an opera for the English, he told the Kimmel crowd. His goal, he announced, is to become an ‘important’ composer, so he can get fat and grow a beard and that will be, like, fine.
4. The Days Of Wine And Poses Are Over
Songwriters get good when they start experimenting with what they can add to make their songs better. Songwriters get great when they start subtracting things to make their songs better. Last time he came through town — about five years back, at the Tower, if memory serves — he was backed by a full compliment of musicians, recreating the elaborate gilded filigree of his albums, that only served to distance him from the things that really matter: his voice and piano. Last night, barring a series of lovely duets with his sister Martha, his only accompaniment was himself. Which was even better, because even all by his lonesome Rufus contains multitudes.
5. He Is Like A Bird On A Wire
As the saying goes, the point of the journey isn’t the destination, it’s the getting there. Or to paraphrase Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross: Always be arriving. Which is another way of saying that all of this — the industry misery, the commercial crapouts, the rococo arrangements, the fainting couch histrionics, the meth and the madness — happened for a reason: To establish the line of demarcation between what is true and what is permitted. Leonard Cohen knew that when he wrote “Hallelujah” — and Rufus acknowledged as much with his gorgeous encore version of said song. Which is why I think that out of all the reasons to love or hate Rufus Wainright, the best one is this: Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, he has tried, in his own way, to be free. — JONATHAN VALANIA
RUFUS WAINRIGHT PERFORMS “PRIMA! RUFUS! JUDY!” VERIZON HALL SUNDAY APRIL 21 AT 8 PM