Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rufus Wainwright's Ineffable oscillating chamber music

We went to see Rufus Wainwright last night at the Wrest Point Casino. I'm a big fan and so is SO. Report following . . .

We got there in time to catch the beginning of support act Leena (Thavisin). With a strapless black evening dress, glittering, chandelier-length ear rings, and mostly capo-ed steel-string acoustic guitar, Leena is, as they say, a package. Well-tanned, elegantly svelte and with model looks, the girl can sing and write a song.
I gave her three songs to see if she could change gears from the mixture of wistful, wistfully defiant, and defiantly wistful songs she began with. No.

But that's the postpunk in me.Having supped at the alt.folk and altars of Gram Parsons, and Gillian Welch, and the junkyard cocktail-jazz-blues of Tom Waits, no Jewel-esque, post-Waifs ingenue will resonate much beyond platitudes like - 'She'd win Australian Idol, on looks alone.' Is she one to watch? Well, if you like Missy Higgins, or Jewel, then worth a look and listen, but I found her sophisticated folk-pop twee. She might end up on screen though.

And so, we left the flat-carpeted Tasman Hall, headed out to the foyer for a couple of overpriced 15oz Cascade Draughts and looked out onto Sandy Bay toward Hobart, some Pacific Gulls perched high on the roof behind us, squawking, and waited for Rufus.

When he did appear on stage, a simple grand piano in the front-centre and microphones over both the piano and closer to the foldback speakers near the edge, his boyish flop of hair and long sideburns sat neatly on a Peter Allen-style outfit: milkybar white jeans and a multi-colour short-sleeved body shirt, tucked in. 'I'm trying to get in the summer-feel' Rufus told us, comparing Hobart to the similarly changeable (cold) summers of his former hometown of Montreal. A touch of the warmth of Rio - especially with his first shirt-button ajar.

This was to be a solo performance, played mostly from the piano, although there were about seven or so songs perfomed on a variety of steel-string acoustic guitars - the crowd-favourite 'California' being one.

Rufus, rufus, rufus! The man can sing, write a song - lyrics and melody, and he can accompany himself on piano, exquisitely. There were moments here: the French-lyric tune with a waltz-time piano underneath that was performed with such a singular feel for tempo that I couldn't believe that the flowing vocal-melody was in the same time; and yet it synchronized, perfectly. Another highlight was a song from Release the stars sung in a falsetto, giving us the chance to hear his higher register, which was beautiful - not so much wistful, as transcendent.

But what struck me most was that his baritone vibrato, his perfect pitching melded with either guitar or piano mostly sounded orchestral. What I mean to say is that the harmonic overtones that are produced by and in his voice, I think, set in play oscillations and rhythms that counterpoint those emanating from the other instrument. Descriptions like, full, rich, orchestral, resonating, don't do justice to this sound. This is not to say that his baritone vibrato, especially at the volume we heard it, didn't at times become repetitive. It did, and when the third beer had me up and out the Hall doors, upon attempting to re-enter mid-song I was stopped by an usher who was then told by another patron that 'He's too nasal, for me', it hit me later that Rufus' nose is a key resonating chamber that can grate, sometimes, but mostly promotes this ineffable oscillating chamber-music. Another cliche that comes to mind is that the song begins to sing itself, and there is a choir of voices audible, and a chamber of instruments supporting.

And what songs - melodies that move with such certain grace, and lyrics that are by turns wry, ironic and vulnerable. I would liked to have heard 'Poses' or 'Tower of learning' from the Poses LP, but we left Wrest Point, satisfied. The sound of his voice, still resonating in my ears and, a little, in my blood.

[Image of Rufus from Sydney Morning Herald 31.01.2008 Photo: Domino Postiglione]