Co-headlining tours run the risk of becoming a power struggle between the two acts. On Wednesday night at sold-out Wolf Trap, though, there was no overt competition between Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright. Each played for just under an hour with no encore, and each received a thunderous reception from the audience.
Folds warmed up the crowd with a lighthearted, energetic set. Introducing a colorful Dr. Dre cover, he said jokingly to the sign-language interpreter translating his lyrics, "Good luck with this one!" Wainwright's set was more laid-back. He crooned "Poses" over a murmuring piano line, and his simple one-handed piano melody was complemented by a cello on "Vibrate."
Wainwright's sister, Lucy Roche, joined him on a new song called "Katonah," subtly echoing his beautifully sustained vibrato.
Wainwright paid tribute to the late singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, acknowledging their rivalry but just as quickly confessing that he wished they had been able to sing together.
He paired the heartfelt elegy "Memphis Skyline" with a solo piano version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (covered most famously by Buckley). Even though his flamboyant personality emerged between songs (such as when he pointed out the naked cowboys on his vest), Wainwright's performance was so polished and sincere that an hour didn't seem like nearly enough time.
-- Catherine P. Lewis