Rufus Wainwright, with support from Andrew Wasylyk, at Strathpeffer Pavilion on the 18th of November, 2016. Review.
I don’t know how much thought went into this evenings support, but Andrew Wasylyk was just about perfect. Perhaps better known from the Hazey Janes and playing bass with Idlewild, tonight he showcased his debut album Soroky to a full house at the Strathpeffer Pavilion, a crowd giddy with the anticipation of the main event. Looking down from the balcony as the doors open it was a fine sight as they raced for the seats at the front.
In a preview of what was to follow, one man with piano and guitar sang songs of alienation, longing and place: melancholy without ever drifting in to dirge territory he really was well received. It seems baroque-pop and Victorian Spa villages were made for each other.
He finished on a political aside with a reference to the recent political shambles in the USA. Taking on Presley’s ‘If I can Dream’ seemed a wee bit of a risk. Containing direct quotes from Martin Luther King, Presley’s response to it was to say, “I’m never going to sing another song I don’t believe in. I’m never going to make another picture I don’t believe in.” The first few bars drew applause – the hall erupted when Andrew Wasylyk finished. It was a fitting tribute and to be fair, you have a sense from his performance that the quote from Elvis Presley is one that Andrew Wasylyk takes to heart: a really fine set.
New York, Berlin, Paris, Strathpeffer: so much of the chat ahead, during and after the gig was about how people couldn’t quite believe Rufus Wainwright was playing the Pavilion. At a time of global turmoil, it seemed that for this evening, people were counting their blessings. To be brief: great staff, a sell out seated crowd, subtle lighting and perfect sound made this a night to remember.
Now with a new album just out there was some speculation about the set list but it was of course a performance that represented his output over the years. From the off he is making political references. Alluding to the President Elect he shares that he had been opening his shows with a prayer; however, since the demise of Leonard Cohen, the opener Ave Maria is of course dedicated to him. This is followed by ‘Beauty Mark’, a song about his late mother Kate McGarrigle from his eponymous first studio album. It’s emotional.
The intensity is sustained by his rendition of ‘In A Graveyard’, a soulful contemplation on mortality. Just when I’m thinking that I can’t take too much more of this emotional weight he swings into one of my favourites: from the album of the same name, ‘Out of the Game’ – an acerbic if tongue in cheek railing against turning 40 (pfft). I find his stage presence absolutely charming, he is serious about serious stuff – but he is charismatic, and witty and as you might expect has more than a few anecdotes to hand.
The set unfolds and it is perfectly balanced; Jericho, Only the People That Love, Art Teacher, A Womans Face, When Most I Will . . . The inclusion of a collaborator on the night with local interest is a surprise to some, born in Glasgow, former pupil of Inverness Royal Academy, Janis Kelly joins him on stage. From his (debut) opera Prima Donna, we are treated to a stunning rendition of the aria ‘Les feux d’artifice t’appellent’. Not for the first, or the last time this evening, the audience show their appreciation and then some.
We roll through ‘California’ and have a bit of a chat ahead of ‘Gay Messiah’. Referring to the Vice President Elect (sorry if you’re a GOP friend, I can’t bring myself to write their names down), Rufus considers that his views and comments on homosexuality ahead of the election ‘should have been a deal breaker’: he stops short of dedicating the song to the aforementioned VPE.
Clearly he is in some distress about the situation back home. ‘America is now fallen’, ‘the shit has hit the fan’ he says. He reasons that we shouldn’t resist, but rather folks ‘need to oppose, get active, get radical!’. Where else to go next but to the song that he wrote back in 2007 when he was troubled and disaffected with the then Bush administration. Having decanted to Berlin to write because, he reasoned, that ‘places that have experienced great defeat experience a kind of rebirth, which I think America has to do – unless we want to get more decrepit’. You have to wonder how much more poignant he feels ‘Going To A Town’ is now – did he think then that things could actually have gotten worse? (That’s a rhetorical question of course).
“I’m going to a town that has already been burnt down / I’m going to a place that has already been disgraced / I’m gonna see some folks who have already been let down / I’m so tired of America . . .”
‘Zebulon’, written about his Mother while she was dying, and ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ are his last two of the evening before a well-earned if inevitable encore. He finishes with ‘Poses’, and, having opened with a prayer to Leonard Cohen, it just had to be ‘Hallelujah’. Meanwhile, outside it is snowing. Like I said already, it’s been emotional.
The story of the Wainwright family makes for one hell of a read and most folk know something about something of the story. It is writ large in many of his lyrics. His father’s song to him ‘Rufus is a Tit Man’, apparently written in celebration and envy of his infant son breast-feeding, has always struck me as being a wee bit cruel. On the eve of International Men’s Day, it seems to me at least, that Rufus Wainwright is a really fine role model.