Review: Rufus Wainwright at Festival Theatre

A bejewelled Rufus Wainwright returns to the Adelaide Festival Theatre to celebrate the two albums which launched his musical career.

Emerging from the wings in a jaunty bowler hat with a guitar on his shoulder, Rufus Wainwright proclaims that this evening is a special one for all fans of his older work. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of his eponymous debut album, the singer dives into old classics, opening with the  pop-swing inspired and very 90s April Fools. Wainwright immediately changes the pace with his second song Barcelona, an ode to the Spanish capital. As he softly strums a guitar, he looks out in the audience and hears complaints that the pink lighting of the theatre is hurting people’s eyes. Immediately breaking away from the tender nostalgia of Barcelona and its sunny, cobbled streets, he calls for the lighting to be fixed so that he can see his fans properly.

Wainwright is introspective in the first half of the set, musing on the impact of his late mother Kate McGarrigle in the up-tempo song Beauty Mark, and the influence of his daughter’s grandfather Leonard Cohen in Sally-Anne. Wainwright tells the audience of his intimate connection to his mother’s hometown of Montreal, stating that he thinks that “Canada has the best musicians in the world”. Singing an acoustic rendition of Canadian legend Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, Wainwright demonstrates the power of his tenor voice as it soars through Mitchell’s lyrics of love and loss.

He closes the set with recent song The Sword of Damocles, a snide rebuke to current US President Donald Trump. Claiming that the song was written in “light of the events happening in the US”, Wainwright brings his trademark cynicism and gusto to the stage in suspenders and a glittering tank top. Prefacing that the President probably “wouldn’t understand the implications of the story of Damocles or the song itself”, he goes into full attack, calling for an end to Trump’s antics across the world.

Wainwright reappears in a black cape to open the evening’s second half with Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, arguably the most famous song from Poses. Despite being shrouded in darkness, Wainwright is more than happy to recount this fun and exciting period of his life for the audience, offering little anecdotes about an awkward massage in Barcelona, and the first time he visited Australia with his mother and her sister, folk legend Anna McGarrigle.

The audience are encouraged to clap and sing along to the infectious piano and pop-style beats of California and Greek Song. Wainwright barely stops to interact during this second set, ensuring that every song of off the seminal, career-defining Poses is performed with a voice that perfectly matches the Rufus of eighteen years ago. Wainwright seems to revel in the fact that audiences know every word to his songs, growing louder and louder as the night draws to a rather emotional close.

Ending the set with a cover of The Beatles’ Across the Universe (a song which launched him into international prominence courtesy of the I Am Sam (2001) soundtrack), Wainwright modestly bows under a spotlight in a simple red jacket better. At 45, Wainwright seems proud of his accomplishments; looking up into the crowd and smiling humbly, he thanks everyone for supporting him for over 20-years.

Rufus Wainwright appeared at The Adelaide Festival Theatre on Friday, February 22

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