Ennui Go With Rufus Wainwright at the 9:30
Rufus Wainwright has built his career on operettas, torch songs and lederhosen. At the 9:30 club Friday night, he downsized expectations, slinking onstage in a striped T-shirt, scarf and watch cap that made him look more like a Peanuts character than, say, David Bowie. The wardrobe reflected a simplified approach to the music, a career-spanning 20-song set in which Wainwright was accompanied only by his own piano or guitar (and occasionally, his sister Lucy's angelic backing vocal).
Wainwright declared the evening's modest aims early, welcoming the sellout crowd to "the first of many, many solo shows to supplement my income, due to the lackluster music business." The you've-all-shown-up-in-my-living-room-so-
I-may-as-well-play-a-few-songs vibe was clearly a thrill for the faithful, who shrieked at the star's quips, roared at his many denunciations of President Bush and missed no opportunity to fire off an "I love you, Rufus!" from the darkness.
It all made for a nice pep rally, but the spare approach did not flatter Wainwright's material: Stripped of their inventive arrangements, the tunes tended to bleed together.
The 9:30 is the wrong venue for a show like this, which seemed made for the Birchmere or Strathmore. The haphazard pacing didn't help, either. A meandering sequence of mid-tempo numbers that began with "Little Sister" seemed to test even Wainwright's patience: "I'm a really great guitar player," he observed dryly while scratching out the chords of "Peach Trees." Iffy fretwork aside, his keening voice was strong, and his piano-playing supple.
The encore featured a haunting duet of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But the closing "Gay Messiah" somehow managed to feel like too much and too little too late.
"I'm so tired of writing elegies to boredom," Wainwright wailed in "Sansoucci." You ain't the only one, bro.
-- Chris Klimek