Friday, 26 October 2007
Part of the reason for visiting Birmingham was to see Rufus Wainwright at the Symphony Hall on Thursday evening. It was only a few minutes walk from the City Inn which is a modern urban type hotel in the remodelled part of Birmingham near to the canals.
The tickets said 19:00 start, which usually means 19:30 or 20:00, so it was surprising to have to wait outside at ten past seven because the support act were already playing!
More than compensated by discovering the pleasing seats were in Row A just to the right of the centre stage. A lone spare seat next to me on one side eventually yielded a Rufus Wainwright fan who had been to 15 of the performances on the current tour as well as seeing him at the Albert Hall and the Carnegie in New York.
"Hmm", I commented, "I thought his performance at Glastonbury was pretty good", knowing my knowledge was limited to the last CD (which we'd somehow lost, instead of having it for 'revision' on the motorway journey to Birmingham).
Anyway as luck would have it, when Rufus appeared with his flamboyant looking band, they immediately started with one of the numbers I knew, from the latest album, and then moved into the very sweeping song about a broken America, called "going to a town". Rufus (who I believe is Canadian?) has a sort of stars and stripes on the back of the stage in black and white with broaches for the stars.
As the first track started I remembered the feeling from hearing his Glastonbury tracks. Here was a musician who I'd somehow bypassed but who commands strong, clever lyrics, a unique and tuneful voice, and a soundscape that sucks one into the performance. So, maybe not as strongly as the person to my left, I was hooked for the performance, which changed from full band rocking pieces, through jazzy and semi orchestral sounding numbers to quiet pieces played with piano or guitar.
In between there was some banter with the audience and clearly there were other songs very well known to people who applauded as various songs started. People did stay seated though, which is somehow unusual compared with quite a lot of concerts, where there's a certain amount of dancing in the aisle. Perhaps its because it was a Symphony Hall, or maybe because of the fairly strict ushers who were also on camera watch. I worked out that pictures from where I was located were a no-no (I need another variety of the StarCam for concerts). Some people managed to take a few though and so I've taken the liberty to post one of Ella's above. In amongst the strong songs, we had a fan join Rufus on stage to worthily accompany one of the tracks. Rufus and the band were out to please and packed the available time with numbers. Changeovers of guitars and instruments were fast and slick, this is a touring band who know what they are about.
The first half finished with a rocker and, yes, there was still a second half to look forward to.
So what to top the first half? It turned out the show in two halves really had at least three main sections. More well-played album tracks (with Rufus wearing Lederhosen(?)) and then a diversion into folk music. The microphones were off, the horn section played the sympathetic accompaniment and Rufus sang a traditional Irish song. Pin drop material.
Then more album tracks which demonstrated further his word crafting as well as the versatility of his band.
Then to the end and a play-out by the band leaving the stage one by one. An unusual way to finish.
And sure enough, after a pause longer than Prince at the O2 arena, the band and Rufus in a bathrobe reappeared for further songs. And part way through this section he sat front centre, applied some makeup, removed the dressing gown and became Judy Garland! Oh, and the band somehow appear wearing dude-ish suits and started a dance routine.
Okay. improbable and I suspect that number was mimed, but immense fun as an interlude in the set. Afterwards the band soon picked up the pace again with proper instruments for the closing part of what had been a long set.
And my overall impression; here's a singer songwriter of great talent, with a strong and adaptive band. Together they put on a great show, capturing the entire audience from start to end. Rufus released the stars tonight.
Posted by rashbre at 17:21