Rufus Wainwright @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 25 Apr

Avoiding any obvious career highlights, Rufus Wainwright draws the main focus tonight to his second album Poses, celebrating a 20 year long career

Review by James Hampson | 01 May 2019
  • Rufus Wainwright live at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 25 Apr

Following a tour last spring consisting of just him and his piano, Rufus Wainwright returns to Europe for a mega tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of his career, as he tells us through jocular gritted teeth. Specifically this refers to the release of his self-titled debut, but tonight the centrepiece is a recital in full of his second album, Poses.

It’s a strange set as it completely avoids his career highlights, the peerless Want albums and his cover of Hallelujah, a rare version of the standard which adds something new. Instead we are given a stubbornly nostalgic Wainwright, focused on his very earliest successes and career. Between songs, the anecdotes and chat are about the distant past – his friendship with Leonard Cohen, his childhood, his early musical education. The whole night feels like some kind of catharsis to Wainwright, who has managed to fit a lot into these 20 short years with nine albums, two operas and countless collaborations.

The audience are happy to aid Wainwright in this trip down memory lane, and it does provide a reminder that, underneath appearances on the soundtracks of Pixar films, there is and always was a deeply creative talent. Poses is not the best Wainwright album, but it does cover his full range; from frothy, funny narcissism in Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk to vengeful menace in Evil Angel via the hyperactive melancholy of Grey Gardens. The smattering of tracks in the first half from his debut album show how funny he used to be, and how he has slowly progressed from a kitsch matinee act into something that defies categorisation and dismissal. He does remain a feel-good act, as evidenced by him having roadies come on stage to assist him in changing between different floor-length capes during songs; different capes for different needs.

The slower, more pared down moments of the set, where Wainwright sends his band away and dons his black feather cape, stand out, particularly a superior cover of his father’s One Man Guy, and the album’s title track. Poses is probably his best ever song, combining everything special about Rufus Wainwright – the sad, pouty warble, the meandering lyrics, the ostentatious self-regard, the genteel orchestral swell that runs throughout all his songs.

An opportunity to join Wainwright onstage as part of his ‘choir’ was sold at the merch stand during the interval and, sure enough, for the last song of the encore a dozen bewildered people holding plastic cups come out to sing Across the Universe. They don’t exactly bring the house down, and the big moment this was presumably designed to create doesn’t arrive. But Wainwright is still centre stage, exactly where he wants to be, and the audience are only focused on him, exactly like he wants us to. This whole evening has been about Rufus Wainwright throwing a birthday party for himself, and everyone here is glad they came.