For all its numerous charms, Wolf Trap's Filene Center isn't the best place to appreciate musical subtlety. (The yearly performance of the "1812 Overture," complete with cannons, is a good match for the cavernous space.) Rufus Wainwright's wry lyrics, Guster's interplay of unexpected instruments, Ben Folds's delicate piano coloration -- all were swept away in Tuesday's maelstrom of broad gestures, teenybopper raptures and volume-volume-volume.

It was a particular shame that Wainwright seemed overmatched by a sound system that muddied his elegant vocals and piano. His genius still shone through, though, in bravura renditions of "La Complainte de la Butte," from the film "Moulin Rouge," and "Grey Gardens." (It may have been a shot at the crew who, during his lovely version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," drenched the stage in Shrek green.)

Guster, which builds its sound on twin guitars, percussion and occasional forays into rhythmic banjo, delighted in shifts from Beatlesque pop to newgrass/tabla breakdowns and back again. Songs such as the ebullient hit "Amsterdam" far excelled the more experimental stuff, which came off as unnecessarily showy -- though the pretty girls in the handmade "I {heart} Guster" shirts would surely differ.

As for Folds, he attacked his piano with such passion that he generally crouched before it, as if a mere stool couldn't hold him. This Elton John for the smart new-century set actually managed to hush the shrieking hordes with a quiet tribute to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, which followed the expected line "It's too late" with the unexpected, unsettling "Don't you know it's been too late for a long time." Folds was more interested, though, in stirring up the audience at evening's end, dividing it into sections and, standing atop the Baldwin, conducting it in three-part harmony.

The evening's best moments saw the three acts, which are co-billed on a month-long tour, mixing it up: Guster joining Wainwright on his dad Loudon's "One Man Guy," Folds at Guster's center for "All the Way Up to Heaven," and Folds and Wainwright giving an impassioned reading of George Michael's "Careless Whisper."

RUFUS WAINWRIGHTBEN FOLDS