There’s more than just music in the Wainwright gene pool. Also, self-deprecating humor and the general ability to entertain. All this came through Saturday night at The Egg, in the concert by Rufus Wainwright with an opening performance by his half sister Lucy Wainwright Roche. (Their father is the folk singer Loudon Wainwright.)
Lucy offered a handful of fine original folk ballads but she could consider working in stand up comedy as well, or maybe just write a family memoir. Her mom is Suzzy Roche of The Roches, while Rufus’ mom is yet another folkie, Kate McGarrigle. According to Lucy, they all get obsessed analyzing each other’s song lyrics.
But it was Rufus’ night. His fans nearly filled the Hart Auditorium and roared with approval at such signature songs as “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” and “My Phone’s on Vibrate For You.” His set stretched for more than 90 minutes, featured at least two new songs, plus several numbers with Lucy, and ended with three encores including Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” from the “Shrek” soundtrack.
Wainwright’s many recordings, including last year’s “Release The Stars,” are mostly characterized by original songs in lavish arrangements created with a string of collaborators. But this was a solo night with no backing band or recorded tracks and the material still held up beautifully.
Whether at the piano or with an acoustic guitar, Wainwright proved to be an able instrumentalist as well as a powerful singer. While retaining an immediately recognizable vocal sound, he’s lost most of the nasal wail from a few years ago. In songs like “Beauty Mark” and “Nobody’s Off The Hook,” he went seamlessly from a clear head voice into a warm baritone.
Yet things were frustratingly uneven when trying to catch the inventive imagery of his lyrics. Though every word came through in the politically charged “Going to a Town,” some more romantic ballads were often a mush. Not that he seemed to be hiding anything. Gay cruising and the beauty of men came through regularly.
Like his sister, Wainwright likes to chat with the crowd and his humor and interests were also revealing. He got Michael Phelps’ name wrong but he cheered on Barack Obama, or Barack “Oh-Body!” having liked what he saw of the senator on the beaches of Hawaii.
Originally appeared in Times Union, 8/18/08