“Next time I think I’ll call my album Adele ‘cause that’s the only way it’ll sell.” The trouble in the music mill has finally reached Rufus Wainwright’s bank balance. He does a fine line in emotional blackmail, warning the crowd that this could be their last opportunity to hear that voice if they don’t cough up the goods for his new record. Sadly, his pleas would go unnoticed with half this audience as it is desperately plugged full of freebie ticket gobblers, a middle-age set of po-faced women slurping wine and looking confused or bored whilst men in anoraks stalk through the crowds desperately searching for something, something they obviously can’t find on the stage in front of them, perhaps absentmindedly thinking of the Boss over the other side of town.
It’s frankly depressing as wafting over their heads and in between their inane braying conversations about the weather is the Wainwright voice turning tricks in the dying light, willing them to be entertained. Thankfully pockets of the crowd realise that this is something special, it’s the Rufus dial set to ‘dazzle’, something that had to remain absent on his last tour as he worked through mourning his mother. This is Rufus in vintage celebration mode and we’re the last ones to leave the party. It seems even his image has taken a carefree gambol into times past,the flowing locks are back and with his velvet jacket, sparkly t-shirt and shades, he has the breezy air of an insouciant Warholian brat dispensing hair raising advice with a wink.
He jaunts effortlessly through a selection of new album treats with his band in muscular powerhouse form, most notably backing vocalist Charice adding weight to the acapella show opener ‘Candles’ and lifting the lounge core feel of ‘Barbara’ into a more soulful, sophisticated realm. The band not only bring a dynamic force to tracks like ‘Out Of The Game’, its soft focus 70’s West Coast feel shining sunlight on our pale faces, but they also offer him some respite, a chance to take a break. Krystle Warren takes the stage and tackles the Kate McGarrigle track ‘I Don’t Know’ in bone shuddering style and in an unprecedented move, they offer the diva himself, a way to shade from the spotlight as both band members Charice and Sharief add shared vocal duties on a reworking of his father’s ‘One Man Guy’.
Although this is not Rufus in a new democratising role, he’s still as starry as ever attacking Liza Minnelli for slagging his Judy Garland tribute show, renaming ‘The Man That Got Away’ ‘The Bitch That Got Away’ before launching into a rendition so painfully pure and spine tingling it would rip Liza’s permanently surprised eyebrows clean off her head. From then on the magic never stops as he pulls a chair up to the piano and does what Rufus does best, pathos by the bucket load. The stomach blow of simple honesty that is the ‘Art Teacher’ could turn even the chattiest of venues into a hushed church with more than a few audience members letting the lump in their throat rise. He ends as ever with a theatrical flourish delivering the colossal kitchen-sink crammed, glitter encrusted ‘14th Street’ taking his vocals to sky rocket heights, ripping his soul clean from heartache and soothing ours in the process. Treating us to an encore of classics from the achingly personal ‘Dinner at 8’ to the triumphant ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ he exits in style. The Boss may be on fire elsewhere but tonight the Diva has left us aflame.