Rufus Wainwright and The McGarrigles - A Not So Silent Night

Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! And friends.

My first thoughts (after “what were they thinking?”) were this would have been a lot better on CD. At the time, I'm sure this sounded like a great idea: a DVD release of an intimate Christmas concert filmed like a home video. What fun! Well, no.

The production is as low-key and minimalist as you can get. One camera, in one spot, for the duration of the show. No speaking and no connection with the audience - except for the half-hearted sing-along to ‘Silent Night’ (Rufus and his “friend” sounding like they are delivering the song in two different keys). The whole performance reads like an amateur home movie with no frills and no chills. As a CD you could pop this into the player while putting up the decorations, preparing Christmas dinner, or even annoying your in-laws. But to watch is as dull as the day the decorations come down.

On paper this is a stellar line up. Not only do you have the king of smooth Rufus Wainwright, but also Martha Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson among others. Performed at New York’s The Knitting Factory in 2008, this low key (and sometimes off key) concert is a warts and all record (false starts, camera shake, jostling for space on the very inadequate stage) of what is portrayed as a family Christmas concert. Arriving on stage looking like they’ve just raided a jumble sale, the ensemble begin the concert with two traditional carols ‘Old Waits Carol’ and ‘Good King Wenceslas’. What follows for the next hour and half is an eclectic selection of Christmas, and Christmas themed, songs.

The performances are, for the most part, excellent and the choice of songs a refreshing, if at times unusual, change from the usual standard jolly Christmas fare, with each member of the “family” having their turn in the spotlight. Highlights include the family performing ‘Cherry Tree Carol’, Martha Wainwright’s excellent rendition of The Waitresses’ ‘Christmas Wrapping’ and Rufus himself's heart-stopping performance of ‘Minuit Chretien’ (‘oh Holy Night’).

Unfortunately you have to sit through a few clunkers as well. Justin Bond’s La Cage aux Folles rendition of ‘Christmas Spells’ is painful to watch and Laurie Anderson’s weird spoken word “song” ‘Beginning’, her voice modified to sound like a grumpy middle-aged man, was no doubt amusing on the night, but not necessarily something you want to trim the tree to. The show ends with an ensemble performance of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ and ‘Happy Xmas(War Is Over). And then the film stops, just as Rufus is about to say something to the audience.

The impressive array of first class talent featured on this disc may seem too good to be true, and you would be right. This may be a nice souvenir for those who attended the concert, but otherwise the only reason to play this DVD during the holidays is if you want to get rid of any unwanted guests.

Extras include a home video of Rufus aged 6 years and a behind-the-scenes documentary.



out of 10

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