LIVE REVIEW: Rufus Wainwright @ Playhouse, Whitley Bay (8.7.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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This was never going to be a standard gig – we’re talking about the opera-writing, Judy Garland-covering, wonderfully camp Rufus Wainwright after all – but what I didn’t expect was part gig/part panto.

An unadorned stage, containing only a shiny and sleek black grand piano and a couple of guitars, welcomed Wainwright as he launched straight into Beauty Mark and then regaled us with anecdotes about the songs (and much more besides, as we’ll come to later). This was pretty much the format for the night; unembellished piano playing, a theatrical flick of the head and sway of the shoulders, and a show that was musically understated considering the bombast of some of his music, enabling that voice to shine through above all else.

From the languorous delivery of Want, to the drawn out notes of Vibrate and the goosebump-inducing Jericho, Wainwright’s vocals are simply sublime. Deep, resonant and offered with passionate simplicity, his voice is undoubtedly his USP, which made all the other hoo-har simply melt into the background. And by hoo-har, I mean the ludicrous – but highly amusing – interlude from personal trainer Patrick Duffy who, after Wainwright’s protracted story about a shopping expedition, came prancing onto the stage to do an ‘app dance’ to promote a new interactive app (and show off a jacket, the purchase made on said shopping trip). Accompanied by Wainwright attempting to keep a straight face playing Grey Gardens on the piano, Duffy’s interactive and ‘interpretive’ dance saw members of the audience filmed via a mobile phone while he capered around the stage (and eventually fell off it). It was as camp as hell, but what else would you expect?!

Wainwright moves between acoustic guitar – at which he’s a little rough around the edges, with a few fluffed chords and the occasional out of tune interlude – and the grand piano, on which his playing is much more accomplished. Coaxing a warm and mournful sound from the instrument during The Art Teacher, never has anyone else managed to imbue so much sensuality from the word ‘Turner.’

It was as camp as hell, but what else would you expect?!

We get a sample of his forthcoming Shakespearean sonnets project, as well as the final aria from opera Prima Donna (sung in French), before the next bit of nonsense takes over the stage – flashing lights, an explosion of confetti and ‘Liza Minnelli’ (or rather, half-sister and support act Lucy Wainwright Roche, replete with sparkly kaftan and smudged eye make-up) – cue a slightly off-kilter version of April Fools and another Patrick Duffy appearance as Judy Garland who, dressed in Wizard of Oz-style plaid dress (the back of which was tucked into his pants) and some cheeky Geordie-isms, berates daughter Liza. It’s utterly surreal and frankly a bit baffling, but by this point we’re taking the oddness as it comes and welcoming it with open arms.

A roaring performance of Gay Messiah with Lucy harmonising shows off that flamboyant style once more, while the powerful rendition of Going To A Town offered a more serious side. The simple arrangement of I Don’t Know What It Is, with its vocal contortions and exquisite lyrics lead into Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk (performed twice, due to the recurrence of a fish supper, which fluffed the first version).

There was no doubt Wainwright would enjoy a standing ovation (I was only surprised there weren’t roses thrown onto the stage), and the encore saw Lucy join him in an aptly sweet version of Pretty Things and a goosebump-inducing Hallelujah. Poses, performed alone and simply on the piano offered up everything that the sold out audience was there to see: unaided by affectations, just that remarkable voice.

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