Rufus Wainwright at The Iveagh Gardens on Wednesday 18th July
Review by James Hendicott
Photos by Owen Humphreys
He’s a larger-than-life character is our Rufus, quipping his way through the Iveagh Gardens sunshine between songs doused in sublime melody and moments of almost pantomime extravagance. You could be forgiven or categorizing him as a throwback: he’s of the old-school song writing style, he dominates his band with a natural charisma that fills the stage, and he puts his voice far and away above his ample other musical qualities. He’s also a musician who performs with little in the way of extras: it’s just him, his band and a gently list platform, and while at the quieter moments it wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest Wainwright’s a little on the dull side, he does have the advantage of being his own man; of clearly doing things entirely on his own terms.
At times it’s brilliant: his mid-set ‘man section’ is about as colourful a themed musical interlude you could hope to come across. It peaks elegantly when he throws in an exceptional rendition his infamous dad Loudon’s defiant ‘One Man Guy’ in among the shining ‘Man That Got Away’ and a sing-a-long rendition of ‘Candles’. The mid-set segment is camp in a way only Rufus can pull off, and musically immaculate, but it also comes as a much-needed boot up the Iveagh gardens collective behinds.
The opening half hour of a set – and several other quiet moments besides – can seem to stretch a little beyond the attention spans of all but the most hardened of fans. For all that glowing charm, Rufus’ personality fades away with the hits, with the singer playing the role of an extravagantly dressed but ultimately dull lounge singer for a depressingly large percentage of the show. There are other low points, too: with tickets priced at a not-insignificant 45-odd Euro each, Rufus’ tongue in cheek side-swipe at one of pop’s newest queens (“the only way the next album will sell is if I call it Adele… buy the album if you want to see me tour with a full band again”) leaves us wondering if that legendary upbringing left something of a sense of entitlement: he’s being slightly tongue in cheek, but when the average member of the audience might have forked out 60 Euro once you throw in a drink and transport (and in the midst of a recession), it seems mighty disingenuous to make a big deal out of their not giving him more.
Still, not many artists are able to step on stage and plod through nearly two hours of material that showcases quite such an array of musical talent: Wainwright’s exceptional on guitar, lavish on piano and tonally immaculate. He’s ably aided by backing singer Charice, a regular feature who’s intense, high-octave vocals seem to loop around, adding flourishes to Rufus’ hearty core. The highs – which come in the form of a magnificent ‘Out Of The Game’ and a swirlingly beautiful ‘Jericho’ are just about worth those laborious moments.
Rufus is a bit of a diva, but you probably already knew that. At times, like when he winks at the audience and lifts the volume for the “I’m a little bit Irish” line of the immaculate ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’, he looks like a man possessed of truly world-beating skills. Take into account his set on the whole, though, he leaves a decidedly mixed taste in the mouth. A shame, for a man capable of so much.