Monday, October 15, 2012

Rufus Wainwright concert review: Riverside, Calif.

photo by Tina Tyrell/Decca
Rufus Wainwright made a magnificent first impression on Thursday night in Riverside, Calif.

The theatrically-inclined singer/songwriter and pianist’s 1 hour, 50-minute performance leaned heavily toward latest Decca Records album Out of the Game, produced by Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran).

“Candles,” the first of nine Game selections, kicked off the 21-song Fox Performing Arts Center set. Wainwright – clad in dark sunglasses, plus zebra print jacket/pants with a splash of red - appeared in the dark to sing the initial part a capella. Then he was gradually joined by the fine seven-piece band.

Before delving into the buoyant pop of “April Fools” (from 1998’s self-titled debut CD), Wainwright told the moderate-sized crowd, which included Pomona College student sister Lexi, that he would be return in the future.

Sitting at a black Steinway & Sons piano, Wainwright jokingly described an equally sublime “Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk” as “one of my greatest possible hits.” Then he handed the reigns over to lead guitarist/background vocalist Teddy Thompson and one of two female backing singers. They ably covered a pair of tunes by Wainwright’s late mother Kate McGarrigle with only piano accompaniment. 

For the splendid title track to Game, the band replicated the album version’s full-bodied sound, complete with synthesizer. At the end, Wainwright quipped, “you can tell I grew up in the ‘80s.” It was among several highlights here.

A compelling themed segment of male-oriented tunes began with “Perfect Man” and found Wainwright doing some minor dance moves on the stage.

There was a sharp-tongued anecdote about Liza Minnelli’s dismissive opinion of his 2006 Judy Garland tribute shows that preceded his dramatic, jazzy rendition of Arlen & Gershwin’s “The Man That Got Away.”

Another standout moment came when Wainwright was joined by Thompson and the same female backing singer on a tender acoustic guitar-led reading of his father Loudon’s “One Man Guy.”  

The sweeping “Going to a Town,” about disillusionment with America, provided an opportunity for Wainwright to mention his support of President Barack Obama. “Montauk,” named after the Long Island hamlet where the artist recently wed longtime partner Jorn Weisbrodt and inspired by their daughter Viva, was a dramatic and dense-sounding stunner.

Everything took a turn for the bizarre during the encores. A bare-chested guy portraying Cupid did a skit. Band members wore outlandish wigs and played a long funk jam while Wainwright suddenly descended one of the Fox’s staircases dressed as Julius Caesar. The bacchanal continued with crew members holding up pictures of wine and fruit and “Caesar” invited fans onstage to help sing the final closer, “Gay Messiah.”     

London native Thompson (who also has a famous folk singing father, Richard) served as the warm-up act. Without introduction, he performed an eight-song acoustic guitar set marked by plenty of humorous banter. Thompson mused about the rainy weather, asked the audience what Riverside - population 300,000 - is known for and admitted he'd never visited, despite a past stint living in Los Angeles. 

Among the selections were a pair from last year's Bella ("Home," "The One I Can't Have") and 2008's excellent A Piece of What You Need ("Don't Know What I Was Thinking," "In My Arms").

Rufus Wainwright, Fox Performing Arts Center, Riverside, Calif., Oct. 11, 2012
Main set: Candles/Rashida/Barbara/April Fools/The One You Love/Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk/Saratoga Summer (Kate McGarrigle cover)/I Don’t Know (Kate McGarrigle cover)/Respectable Dive/Out of the Game/Jericho/Perfect Man/The Man That Got Away/One Man Guy (Loudon Wainwright III cover)/The Art Teacher/Going to a Town/Montauk/14th St.

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