Review: Rufus Wainwright enchants the Pabst, again
The audience for Rufus Wainwright’s Friday night show at the Pabst Theater was calm, patient and expectant.
They knew Wainwright loves the Pabst. He recorded his 2009 live album, Milwaukee at Last!!! there and, only seconds after taking the stage, declared the venue “the most beautiful theater in America.”
Beginning his almost two-and-a-half hour set on a stage lit only by candlelight, Wainwright appropriately opened with “Candles,” the last song on his new album Out of the Game. Halfway through his earnest crooning the lights flashed on triumphantly and the audience could see the singer sauntering around the stage in a black blazer, red sunglasses and bold floral print pants that only he could pull off.
Wainwright proceeded to glide through his fifteen years of recorded music, effortlessly blending the pop songs from his latest record to the operatic and classical compositions of his earlier days.
Gaps between songs were scarce but not avoided. Wainwright took the opportunity to chat with the audience, admitting his fascination with the increased military presence in Milwaukee for the annual Air and Water Show.
Commenting on the proliferation of sailors in the city, Wainwright cheekily warned that “these sailors better get moving because I’m getting married this month.”
A hair-flip here, a sashay there – Wainwright has swagger, a specifically gay swagger that is charming and infectious. His stage presence is commanding and light-hearted with just the right amount of bitchiness and campy innuendo.
But he was able to get serious, too.
The simple, elegant piano accompaniment to songs like “The Art Teacher” and “Montauk” spurred couples to canoodle in the darkness. Wainwright’s solitary voice was just as powerful alone as it was with a stage full of backup singers.
“One Man Guy” sent a shiver up the collective spine of the audience. The track, sung in a three-part harmony with Wainwright playing piano, was a haunting and beautiful declaration of solitude made all the more poignant by his upcoming nuptials.
Things became more uptempo as the night drew to a close. Rousing songs like “14th Street” and “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” showcased Wainwright’s versatility without sacrificing his ability to completely enrapture his audience.
At one point he literally bade the entire theater to stand and dance, a command that was instantly obeyed – no small feat for an audience that ranged from tweens to senior citizens.
After three encores, Wainwright finished with the delicate “Foolish Love,” letting the last note from the piano linger in the air before making an effort to wave goodbye to every single person in the Pabst.
Wainwright’s set list was eclectic, dynamic and oh-so-much-fun – a gorgeous spectrum of his accomplished musical career which, as he himself attested, isn’t over by a long shot.