Rufus Wainwright, Hammersmith Apollo, 30-10-07

I don’t know where to start.

I should preface the review by saying I’m currently pretty sick with some hideous flu type thing. I can’t stop sneezing, coughing and my chest is wheezing like a miner with emphysema. So, not really in the best of health to attend a concert, least of all one that is seated and contains tender torch songs. I had visions of coughing once too often and being booted out of the venue. I’d been to the doctors just before the gig, racing from work in south London to the doc near Camden back to Hammersmith for the show. I was turned around, feverish and confused. My doctor told me that I should use my inhaler as much as possible. I was unsure about this since I’d always been told you shouldn’t use it more than twice a day. He said it was fine, the worst that could happen was minor tremors. So I used it, a lot. Soon after, I started to shake. The painkillers and the inhaler didn’t get on well and I started to get dizzy and disoriented. This was just at the moment I arrived at the venue. What possessed me to sink half a joint I have no idea but it was a mistake! Why did I think that would improve the situation? Idiot.

My head started to swirl but I held it together to get to the loo, got some water and found my seat, feeling like I was going to pass out all the way. I needed rescuing and this gig was either going to make it worse or centre me and take me out of this misery.

In my state, as it turned out, this was the perfect gig to see. The air conditioning was on full blast and I was getting cold, which seemed to be stopping me from fainting or having to leave. I felt high and paranoid, it was not pleasant. The lights went out, a huge Stars and Stripes flag (with what looked like 13 Xmas baubles instead of 50 stars) and two mirror balls, at slightly different heights, descended from the ceiling and the band, dressed in similar pinstripe brightly coloured suits came on. I caught sight of Gerry Leonard, who I had seen at this venue five years earlier, except that time he was playing Heathen. He’s the most fascinating musician, sometimes you can’t even tell when or what he’s playing. He blends in but not in an unmemorable way. He makes the overall sound what it is, as both guitarist and musical director. It was a pleasure seeing him again. Out walked Rufus, dressed in white suit with vertical stripes and glistening accessories, crystals or diamante brooches all over his suit. Handsome devil, to be sure. The crowd, made up of middle class Londoners, the best gays (and their hags) that London has to offer and trendy students, cheered and wolf-whistled at him as the band struck up Release the Stars. And then this voice, this instrument, came from nowhere and filled the room. I had something to focus on and fixed my tired eyes to him and just let the voice wash over me. People I know who don’t get him say the voice is the problem. He’s hardly Dylan, in terms of being challenging to listen to these days, but I do understand. It’s an odd voice, there’s a monotone quality to it. But once you get it, it soars and sinks and hits big notes, high notes, low notes, all in perfect, flawless pitch. I’ve rarely heard a better live singer.

Later in the show he was playing some complex piano part in the song Tulsa and hit the wrong note, it sent his voice out of tune and in a split second he looked down, found the place his hands should be, and just carried on. No stopping, giggling or apologising. He made a mistake and fixed it. It happened once more where he sang a line then said “Ah, I’ll do that one again”, and did, carrying on til the end. In between songs I can’t underplay how charming, cheeky and funny he is. Filled with nervous energy, he loses track of his thoughts, rambles and tells daft stories.

The stories themselves are worth relating – he told us about a palace Frederick the Great built for men only that he insisted had all doors unlocked at all times. How he then built a room for Voltaire, which, unsurprisingly, was never visited. He came out for the second half dressed in lederhosen, which he was keen to tell us were Austrian, not German. He’d bought them from the same place the von Trapp family had. He told us his boyfriend was back home in Germany and how German Rolling Stone had done an article about the top 10 rock stars and their muses. “Number one was John Lennon and that woman, what’s she called… Yoko, that’s it. Then Mick and Marianne. And at number 9, yes, Rufus Wainwright and Jörn Weisbrodt!”. Then there was the song dedicated to Brandon Flowers, “Hugely talented, incredibly handsome and hopelessly heterosexual!” The banter between the songs is such a part of the whole but never detracts from the sumptuous and sensitive music. I knew almost all the songs but my highlights were the amazing ode to lost love The Art Teacher and Poses.

Having sadly missed him doing the ‘Judy show’ at the Palladium in February I didn’t imagine I’d get any covers from it. Happily, I was wrong. If Love Were All followed a tender version of A Foggy Day in London Town. When I saw Morrissey at the Palladium 18 months ago, where Judy sang in 1963, two years after her Carnegie show, he walked on stage, tuxedo-clad and sang, “But I believe that since my life began, the most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse” before bursting into Panic. The song was familiar but only when I listened to my Judy at Carnegie CD (the greatest live show ever recorded, no joke) and heard her sing those lines did I realise it was the Noel Coward penned If Love Were All. Hearing Rufus sing it in entirety almost brought a tear. Very slowly, my asthma inhaler inspired tremors started to wear off. Only a little, I still felt like I was on some other planet until I got home. I can’t forget about the rendition of Between My Legs though. He has been running a competition online where people submit You Tube footage of themselves doing the spoken word section of the song. The winner is invited on stage each night to perform it. Last night it was a super excited clone-y shaven headed guy in jeans and checked shirt. He delivered his lines, to great cheers, like an overacting Shakespearian actor wannabe. Brilliant.

After the two Judy songs I was even more delighted to get the dragged up Get Happy. He came out for the encore in a bathrobe and I’d seen this before. He did it at Glasto, minus the dress up routine. But this time he perched on a chair and put on clip on earrings, heels and lipstick, slowly and dramatically, smiling, before miming to his own version of Get Happy while the band danced around him. Judy-loving gays aside, I wonder who realised what he was re-creating? I read a description of it in Q magazine a couple of months ago – they described it as him wearing ‘a Liza Minnelli style Cabaret outfit’. I guess they couldn’t be bothered to find out what the outfit really was, a perfectly choreographed recreation of Judy performing the song in Summer Stock. Not remotely like Cabaret. It was tremendous fun and was greeted with a standing ovation. Still in Judy drag, he performed the silly and charming Gay Messiah and he was off. I’m going again tonight and, it being Halloween, I don’t know quite what to expect. It’s taken me a few albums to get there but now I get it. So here I sit, at home, sneezing and coughing, but nothing will stop me from getting back to Hammersmith tonight.

Release the Stars
Going to a Town
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
The Art Teacher
The Consort
I Don’t Know What It Is
A Foggy Day in London Town
If Love Were All
Between My Legs
14th Street
Macushla (sung with brass only and no microphone)
Beautiful Child
Get Happy
Gay Messiah