After writing an opera, losing his mother, releasing a piano album, and having a daughter, Rufus Wainwright is back on tour. SUZANNAH BENTLEY puts on some sequins and gets ready to be seriously entertained.
QPAC Concert Hall, Wednesday September 12
On this Wednesday night, QPAC is a sea of mainly grey-haired Jersey Boys ticketholders who look slightly stunned to be out past eight on a weeknight. Among the tides of the swelling crowd float shining buoys — by which I mean lots of gay boys wearing sparkly accessories. At the entrance to the Lyric Theatre and Concert Hall, the crowd splits and I join the current of bedazzled, ebullient Rufus Wainwright fans flowing into the Concert Hall.
Rufus consistently imbues his shows with a thrilling sense of occasion, and tonight he ramps up the suspense with two support acts. Krystle Warren —one of Rufus’s backup singers — opens with a set that shows off her astonishing vocal range. Then Megan Washington plays a pleasantly dark set — just herself and the keyboard. Her cover of Rowland S. Howard’s Shivers is particularly striking.
The lights go out. In the light of the candles distributed around the stage, something sparkles in the darkness: Rufus. With the room still black, he launches into a grand, wall-shaking a capella rendition of Candles. When the lights blaze on, it turns into the bombastic Rashida. Wearing a blinding white suit covered in tiny mirrors and a pair of white sunglasses, Rufus and his seven-piece band including Teddy Thompson proceed to deliver a characteristically theatrical show that seems to remain at a permanent climax. He moves effortlessly between his ‘wife’, the piano, and his ‘mistress’, the guitar, and plays old tracks as well as new. Highlights include the drum-heavy The One You Love, his classic Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk and the vocal showcase that is The Art Teacher. He finishes with the heart-swelling 14th Street and struts off the stage with typically Rufus-esque swagger.
Anyone who has seen a Rufus show before knows that the encore is when things are going to get crazy. Last time, Rufus came back on stage for the finale dressed as Judy Garland—stockings, heels, lipstick and all — to sing her hit Get Happy while the band joined him in a recreation of the choreography from Summer Stock. Tonight, there is no sign of Rufus, but there is a very buff, very scantily clad cupid prancing onto the stage with wings and a bow and arrow. He informs the crowd that we must earn the reappearance of the god Rufus Apollo by getting up and dancing as the band (who have returned in ancient Roman costume) plays Old Whore’s Diet.
The audience obliges and Rufus Apollo appears — blonde-wigged, barely-clothed, and covered in body glitter. He frolics through the crowd, singing the disco-tastic Bitter Tears and selecting audience members to join him on stage. Teddy Thompson joins the chaos dressed in his underwear as the Gay Messiah and the Grim Reaper force-feeds Rufus a giant foam sandwich. Rufus Apollo is struck down by a giant cardboard lightning bolt, but gets resuscitated by the Gay Messiah for a final number before sauntering off-stage once and for all.
Bizarre, hilarious, camp as hell and ridiculously entertaining, this is definitely a Rufus Wainwright concert. I’m yet to find anyone who can turn a live show into an operatic spectacular the way Rufus can, and I won’t be surprised if I never do.
SUZANNAH BENTLEY is a Brisbane-based writer, editor, and all-round word nerd. She has a Master’s degree in Writing, Editing & Publishing and a penchant for horror films and sparkly things.