RUFUS WAINWRIGHT Opera House, September 9 REVIEW SMH.COM.AU BY Bernard Zuel
WELL, that was a pleasure. Not empty-headed or throwaway, nor, bar the last number, exaggeratedly flamboyant: you couldn’t dismiss it with any of those. But certainly driven by a combination of flair, fun and a reminder that when he puts his mind to it, Rufus Wainwright can write a pop song that pleases the parts of you that lesser artists struggle to reach.
To a fair extent that was to be expected given this tour is built around the new album, Out of the Game.
There is a record whose touchstones are the highly polished musical gems of 1970s and ’80s radio as seen through the eyes of a boy who grew up on much older records – played here by a band very adept at both precision and effortless cool in the manner of those who used to wear their collars wide and their facial hair long.
These are songs that, like Barbara, mixed the light rhythmic feel of yacht rock with the glide across a shiny floor of Fred Astaire; gave Perfect Man a telling groove while Wainwright crooned as if in white tails; or in Respectable Dive took you by the hand for a last dance of the night country turn. They’re also the kind of songs that hold their shape in a swirl of synthesizers, theatrical tenor and lyrics both arch and directly personal, as Montauk so charmingly did.
Not surprisingly, the one album not represented in the wide-ranging set was the sombre, almost operatic All Days Are Nights but that didn’t mean we lacked for quiet or tenderness asOne Man Guy (with verses shared with backing vocalist Charisse Goodwin and the tantalisingly under-used Teddy Thompson), the incomparable Art Teacher (done solo), and even the classy and subtle Judy Garland number The Man That Got Away (with amusing digs at Liza Minnelli), ably provided.
Nor did the absence of songs from All Days Are Nights, which two years ago allowed Wainwright to stage a set of Puccini-esque high drama, mean we only got a ”straight” pop show. How you describe the finale of this show depends on your age as post-gig discussions threw up comparisons ranging from the climax of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Frankie Howerd’s Up Pompeii to Bootsy Collins meets masked ball at a Kylie concert.
All appropriate, too, for the song Gay Messiah, and the man who couldn’t resist a high-camp ending.