Rufus Wainwright - Milwaukee At Last!!!
Arrogance is an ugly thing. It has claimed the careers of many a starlet, their own sense of self-importance overshadowing the importance of hard work and good songs. During last month's UK promotional campaign for his first opera Prima Donna, a newly-bearded Rufus Wainwright showed signs of ego enlargement; however, it also highlighted that Wainwright is lacking in neither of these two things. When watching/listening to this new package, a gift of sorts for devotees, you soon realise that big-headedness is sometimes merited.
Milwaukee At Last!!! captures the main man's gig at Pabst Theatre in August 2007. Working to a setlist similar, give or take four songs, to the Birmingham show I thoroughly enjoyed in October of the same year, Wainwright excels in the spotlight and demonstrates what a remarkable showman he's become. The music is interspersed with brief backstage vignettes, wherein we meet band members and Rufus's German boyfriend, but we're never very far away from one of the 23 numbers performed on the night. The literate, romantic pop songs are as effective as ever, but the power and clarity of Wainwright's voice threatens to pull focus from the intricacies of the music in a live setting - for a masterclass in vocal skill and performance, check out his acapella take on the celtic folk song Macushla.
While Wainwright is undoubtedly at his best when stripped back, Tulsa and Pretty Things being two of many sobering piano/voice delicacies, he has fun in mixing it up - within a two-and-a-half hour framework, he fits in everything from showstopping razzle dazzle (the opener Release the Stars), crowd participation (Between My Legs) and, er, lederhosen. He even gets his glad-drags on for a rendition of Judy Garland's Get Happy for a camp-as climax, topped only by a transcendent encore of his trademark torch song Gay Messiah. Fans of Rufus's back catalogue may be disappointed to find that 80 per cent of the show is made up of material from his most recent album, but classics like The Art Teacher and 14th Street show up like the old friends they are. When the generous running time threatens to drag, the eclectic shifts in tone perk it back up, thanks largely to the input of a seven-piece all-male band that are adept at everything from guitars, drums, woodwind, brass and even banjo.
Of course, despite his talented backing players, prima donna Rufus is the star here and won't let you forget it. A ten-track CD of show highlights is included, although you'd be better off buying a ticket for his next tour which, if I have a say in anything, cannot come quickly enough. Bravo, etc.