There was no “Instant Pleasure” at the Rufus Wainwright show Wednesday night, in more ways than one. First of all, Rufus didn’t come onstage until 10:15. No, he sent Teddy Thompson (listed as tour “support”) onstage. Teddy Thompson is like every young, white, male folk musician I’ve heard in the past two or three years — Alexi Murdoch, Patrick Park, just go to cdbaby.com and they’re all there. Teddy’s one highlight was “I Wish It Was Over,” which sounded an awful lot like “Here Comes the Sun,” except not hopeful. For the duration of the song, I was happily convinced that he was about to be over. But he didn’t leave. Oh no. Not until he’d played for about an hour. At least he was cute, and British, if that does it for you.
The stage area was encompassed by an under-21 crowd, a sea of predominantly male fans. Most of the female fans, recognizing the futility of fighting for a closer spot, were stuck in the back. By the time the talented Mr. Wainwright finally reached the stage, I was good and depressed, so much so that his cheery red shirt lifted my spirits and seemed like an omen for fun to come. I wasn’t the only wishful one there. “Look at his beautiful haircut,” said one of my girlfriends, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.” “Who else do I have to be a groupie for?” pondered a lovestruck male friend. “Oh, you guys are so sweet,” said Rufus himself. “Really, really, college students, mmm.”
Mr. Wainwright was unable to make last year’s scheduled show because of substance abuse problems, and he has recently come out of rehab. Yet, according to a lucky friend closer to the stage, Rufus wasn’t acting so sober, and flailed around a bit. I couldn’t see most of the time, but he did forget his keyboardist’s surname, he did bum a cigarette off the crowd, and he did kick his band offstage after “Poses” (“Off, off!” he drawled) to play another really sad piano song, at which point people started leaving. He didn’t sound as slack-jawed as he does on some live recordings, but he certainly didn’t sound like he’s been playing around with any SSRI’s, either. “Smile. Be happy,” said Rufus, before playing “Want,” a definite downer.
Wainwright, backed by two guitars, bass, keyboard, drums, his sister Martha and another vocalist, opened up with the dark “Vicious World.” (Teddy Thompson was up on stage too, but fortunately he sang backup vocals and played guitar.) Things seemed to perk up with “Movies of Myself,” the third song, but Rufus wasn’t feeling the happy that night. The song sort of fell apart at the end. Rufus explained, “We’re figuring out the end — but it ends right about there.” This also happened with “April Fools,” another relatively upbeat piece. “Movies of Myself” is on his new album, “Want One,” but “April Fools” is from his self-titled debut album — leaving us to wonder when exactly “Movies of Myself” will be figured out.
Regardless, Wainwright simply seemed to lack the energy to pull off these songs. Maybe he felt constrained by the need to promote his new album. “I figure I spent $900,000 on this record, I might as well use some of it on tour,” he said. Or maybe it was the limitations of Toad’s: “Okay, now part of this show is that at some point there’s gonna be lights — so just suspend your belief and believe that there’s an orchestra onstage and, uh, a choir.” Then again, maybe he just felt constrained: “I wanted this next song on ‘Want One,’ but due to the nature of the conservative world we live in, it’ll be on ‘Want Two,’ he announced before “Gay Messiah.” Ê
The songs that kept me standing up included “Vibrate,” which, beyond having characteristically witty lyrics (“My phone’s on vibrate for you/ –I tried to dance Britney Spears/ I guess I’m getting on in years/–“), is just a lovely song. “Go Or Go Ahead” was also great live. Wainwright announced, “This is my attempt — my successful attempt — at rockin’ out,” and he wasn’t wrong, although the sound got a little too distorted at times. “April Fool’s,” which had four guitarists, was a little more rock than “Go or Go Ahead,” even if, as mentioned earlier, it did fall apart at the end. “One Man Guy,” a song written by his father, was hauntingly beautiful when Martha sang along with Rufus. Another highlight was “Beautiful Child,” which Rufus said he wrote on mushrooms.
Despite various requests for “Foolish Love” and “Instant Pleasure,” Rufus said “I’m just not feelin’ that tonight.” It wasn’t a bad show; it just wasn’t a show I’d want to see without a chair, alcohol, and the (apparently) delicious pain of unrequited love for Rufus. Unfortunately, I had only one of the three, and not enough of it.
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