Rufus Wainwright: Axl Rose's Cousin or Bush's Worst Enemy? A: Both!
J. Gordon
2/23/2004 3:17:00 PM

Funny how just last year, Rufus Wainwright didn’t even fill St. Louis’ Mississippi Nights, and last night ( February 22, 2004) he sold out the Pageant with almost twice as many seats. One of the middle stops on tour for his critically-acclaimed third album, Want One Rufus greeted his fans with a scarf tied around his head and a lavender shirt (blouse?) tucked into jeans. “I look like Axl Rose’s gay cousin Bob!” he laughed, and then surveying the crowd said, “Wow! I didn’t know this many people even lived in St. Louis!”

It’s been a tough couple of years for Rufus Wainwright, who despite his professional success was dealing with, and then rehabilitating from a serious drug problem that almost did him in. But those handsome looks show no sign of damage from where this reviewer sat, that’s for sure.

Opening with the French song, “Quand Vous Mourrez De Nos Amours” Rufus looked fit and healthy as he joked, “I had to sneeze during that entire song.” Then he launched into “Harvester of Hearts”—one of the many tracks played from the new album. The backup band consisted of a classical bass player, another keyboardist, a guitarist, and two female back-up singer/string musicians accompanied him (one being Shannon McNally who opened the show with her own country-rock band). Spending most of the time at the piano, Rufus sat and chatted between songs as if he was in our living room and we were all best friends. Wainwright’s comfort, humor, and feeling of familiarity are huge factors in the success of his live shows. He’s not performing; he’s hosting his own intimate party of a few thousand.

Ah, Rufus Wainwright. Live, just like on album, he is a wonder: Rufus never cracks a note, never wanders off-key, never strays from that velvety-deep, plush and sensual tone that makes women weep and men call out marriage proposals (there were more than a few). He knows he’s got that power, too. He’s playfully conceited, taking a smoke between sets and quipping, “even with my voice scratchy, it’s a fucking Cadillac!” Then he brings himself back down to Earth and says, “Here’s the real test”, singing “Go or Go Ahead,” a lush, gorgeous song that gave the band a chance to show off with reverb electric guitar creeping between the verses and a powerful musical buildup. He dedicated “Pretty Things,” he said, originally to Michael Jackson, then to Jackie Kennedy in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of JFK. Nowadays, he says he’s singing it for Martha Stewart.

Rufus tried a few new songs on the crowd, too. One, “The Art Teacher,” he said he wrote with the intention of seducing a straight guy, and it worked. “Then I tried to seduce a gay guy, and it didn’t!” Also included in the set was the stunning “Hallelujah,” “Day of the Death,” which is actually a somewhat snappy tune he wrote in mourning the death of actor River Phoenix. The audience called out many requests, especially for songs on the “Poses” album. “I’m not doing that one tonight, sorry! I know it’s great…” he chirped. Other tunes included “Vibrate,” and the “Gay Messiah,” which he introduced this way: “I’m feeling left out of political talk ‘cause basically, there are no gays in the Bible. It’s hard for me to relate! So I’ve written a song called ‘the Gay Messiah’. It’s just a suggestion to the Fathers and Mothers of the church. I’m so diplomatic…” In between men calling out “Rufus we love you!” (to which he answered, pointing to them, “ah, I wish I was sitting over there!”) he toyed with the idea of running for President, claiming ‘Wainwright’ had a presidential ring about it.

For his encore, Rufus and the band returned in Harry Potter-esque wizard cloaks and hats and sang “Oh, What A World We Live In,” and “Millbrook” which got him doing a jaunty little bum and grind dance. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s working!” he hooted. He closed with a giddy chorus of the optimistic lyric, “Wouldn’t it be a lovely headline? Life is beautiful!” and then withered down in his cape, melting like the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West.

A second encore brought him out with a dedication of an untitled song “to all the gay couples in San Francisco trying to get married.” The beloved hit, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” followed with an extra long, teasing pause at the last line, “Don’t think I’m a…mess!” And he closed the show—for real this time—on a serious note: “I made a deal with myself to say this at every show: I’m sorry, but Bush has to go!” He got a standing ovation as he played “Liberty Cabbage,” the lyrics packing an extra punch: “Sometimes I think you’re trying to kill me with your stars and stripes”.

Rufus Wainwright says that he’s hoping to get Want Two out soon, the follow-up to this new release he recorded at the same time. With the closing down of his former label, Dreamworks, and the shift over to Interscope Records, it appears there’s a bit of a hold up. “Please email Interscope. Tell them you want it or you’ll get really mad!” he said.


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