It was a decidedly stripped down Rufus Wainwright that visited the Mod Club Theatre in Toronto Wednesday night. Taking the stage minus his backing band, Wainwright alternated between a grand piano and acoustic guitar, treating the capacity crowd to a diverse set that was both rollicking ("California," "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk") and emotional ("Hometown Waltz," "Want"). He even found time to squeeze in a few B-sides ("Complainte De La Butte" and "L'Absence"), the rarely played "Damned Ladies," and an emotive cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Wainwright's opening piano cascades took the symphonic "Agnus Dei" and turned it into a sumptuous tune of longing, while "Hometown Waltz," from his recent disc, "Want Two," left its desired taste of bitter sweetness.
Before launching into the swirling "Little Sister," which he dedicated to his sibling, Martha, Rufus referred to himself as the new "Mendelssohn." Seeing how hearing these songs stripped of the free-flowing strings that drench his records is a truly unique experience, this show was special because the crowd even got to hear when the flamboyant singer playfully fumbled some of the song's lyrics. Free of percussion and background vocals, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," "California" and "Beauty Mark" took on a foot tapping, country and western tinged flavour, while fans had little trouble catching his gift for the poetic on the sparse "Crumb by Crumb" and "This Love Affair."
And while background singers breathe life onto the studio version of tracks like "Gay Messiah," performed simply with an acoustic guitar, Rufus' ascending vocals reminded the audience how truly beautiful his voice really is. His performance, though, wasn't meant to be an entirely hushed affair, as Rufus coated tracks like "The Art Teacher" in a drizzle of piano, while fashioning others, like "Gay Messiah," into anthems complete with requisite political commentary. "We lost the election, but we're going to win the war," he quipped in his introduction. When his very fine touring band performs with him, Rufus has much to say. But last night, the eccentric singer kept the anecdotes to a minimum, letting his music do most of the talking. And given his choice of songs and the honesty with which he performed them that turned out to be the best surprise of all.
Writer: Mark Daniell