Live Review: Rufus Wainwright, Rachel Eckroth

27 February 2019 | 12:12 pm | Liz Giuffre

"The show was far from a museum piece."

More Rufus Wainwright More Rufus Wainwright

Tonight’s show celebrated Rufus Wainwright’s two early albums, Rufus Wainwright and Poses. While both got a great airing, the show was far from a museum piece. Supported by excellent American electro-folkie Rachel Eckroth, who then went on to play as part of the main band, Rufus Wainwright shone over two sets, several costume changes and a cracking cover of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The song prompted a mid-set standing ovation and more than a few tears in the room, Wainwright made Mitchell sound like Mozart. 

His first set, dominated by songs from his self-titled debut, had an almost circus feel to it at times, with songs like April Fools and Danny Boy ambling along with the slow charm of a baby elephant finding its way. Among this collection were the elegant Barcelona and Sally Ann – the second pre-empted by a sweet story about Leonard Cohen, and then promptly interrupted as Wainwright sneezed mid-tear-jerker-moment. The upset just prompted him to up his charm offensive – “Just turn it all off and leave me here!” he said, smiling through the minor mishaps, then pressing on like a pro. This set ended with his most recent offering, Sword Of Damocles (“my take on the whole Trump thing, sigh”). 

After intermission he and the band returned to reanimate Poses, starting with its iconic anthem Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk. Switching between two magnificent coats between songs, as if to signify the different mindsets of that time, Wainwright revisited his playful pop moment, California, the slow loveliness of Grey Gardens and the gorgeous cheekiness of Rebel Prince. Although each is relatively simple now compared to his later work, here the songs were given a new life, a younger man’s certainty held up as a lovely musical marvel. A fantastic version of his dad’s One Man Guy was also a highlight here, and the band, including the flawless Eckroth, proved acoustic high-wire work can be just as impressive as bells and whistles. Returning for an encore of the wonderful Imaginary Love, still one of the best things he’s ever written, the night finished with brilliant lament, Going To A Town. Who else writes such a singable, if not desperate protest song? Its chorus of “I’m so tired of America” was then replaced with The Beatles’ defiant Across The Universe.

Joined on stage by audience members holding candles, the finale was redemptive and joyous, beautifully using a signifier from the past to face the future. Just as any ‘best of’ show should be.