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Rufus Wainwright

‘Popera’ Star Delivers Eclectic, Authentic Music

By Nina Kshetry and Devdoot Majumdar


Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson

Avalon Ballroom

Feb. 8, 2002

For a moment, all in a packed house at Avalon could see nothing and hear nothing but opera streaming through the speakers as they awaited the appearance of Rufus Wainwright. As the music receded, out came the members of the band, followed by a cardigan-clad Wainwright.

“Rufus, I love you,” shouted a member of the audience.

“Yeah, I love me too,” he unabashedly replied, leading into an evening of sass and eclectic music from his first and second albums.

It was the debut concert of his national tour, but Wainwright dismissed it, saying “Yeah, it’s kind of a rehearsal.” Despite some confusion with the setlist, misplayed notes, and a subtle lack of memorization, the concert remained unscathed and delivered a few hours’ worth of musical enchantment.

Over the past four years, critics have dubbed Wainwright’s music “popera,” shedding light on his classical background. Not by any stretch of the imagination is he to be confused with the PBS opera types (Charlotte Church, Andrea Bocelli); he’s defined his own unique genre -- a blend of folk, pop, and opera.

Wainwright performed his entire second album, Poses, selected tracks off his first, more sentimental record, Rufus Wainwright, and songs from a few movie soundtracks. In all, it was a variegated concert showcasing the different musical innovations characteristic of Wainwright.

The current favorites -- “California,” “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” and “April Fools” -- were not missed among Wainwright’s large set. “California” was delivered true to CD quality with little improvisation. Keeping to an acoustic guitar, Wainwright and company managed to deliver the pop favorite to an audience awaiting that song.

Another notable landmark in Wainwright's set was his version of “Evil Angel.” Recorded, the song is at best subtly sinister. Live, however, Wainwright took a plunge and decided to go Marilyn Manson on the unsuspecting audience. A tapestry of stars shone through Avalon’s bleak background as Wainwright commanded a bright blue spotlight. This was lighter music, or at least a semi-sarcastic version of it, with Wainwright even striking the occasional Satanic rock star pose (with a smile).

Delivering a cover of his father’s “One Man Guy,” Wainwright managed to stray into the world of folk. Loudon Wainwright III, Wainwright’s father, enjoys quite a bit of his own eminence in Canadian folk circles. What made the performance so unique in this case was in Wainwright’s approach to the song. Sharing the vocals of the song with his sister Martha and his guitarist Teddy Thompson, the song came off as more Fleetwood Mac than Rufus Wainwright. Wainwright shared the spotlight with his band members with the intention of recognizing their talent.

As a Valentine’s Day treat, one encore song was “April Fools,” a favorite from the first CD. Performed quite differently from the recorded version, the band improvised promiscuously. Guitarist Thompson added a riff that accentuated the melody with his electric guitar.

The band was composed of six members including Wainwright. Among the members were his younger sister, and Thompson, the opener from England. Throughout the concert the distinct voices of each of the backup singers could be heard clearly and they added to the fullness of the musical sound in lieu of the typical filler that is hard rock. In particular, Martha Wainwright’s voice stood out as being the most evocative, soaring above the rest of the voices. Thompson’s opening act was charming because of his impressively strong and versatile voice, and catchy melodies.

While pop music today sees Alicia Keys as its last claim to classical roots, Rufus Wainwright certainly one-ups the sampler of Moonlight Sonata. Wainwright, treated the audience to poetic, witty lyrics accompanied by extraordinarily electric tones, a rare combination in music today.