"Men reading fashion magazines, oh what a world we live in." Those opening lyrics from "Oh What a World," penned by Canadian heartthrob Rufus Wainwright, who played last night at Benaroya (but didn't play that song, as I'd erroneously first reported), perfectly encapsulated the mood of the week before. Legislation ensuring equal rights for homosexual partners was affirmed by Washington State's voters, a female horse won the Breeders' Cup Classic for the first time in its quarter-century history, and 60-year-old straight males saluted a gay singer-songwriter who just staged his first opera and once performed the Judy Garland songbook live without a drip of irony. Oh what a world, indeed, and a lovely one at that.
Wainwright: gay, self-indulgent, and loved in Seattle. He played Benaroya Hall on Sunday, November 8
For his hour-and-fifteen-minute set, Wainwright jumped all over his oeuvre, playing his favorite Shakespearean sonnet, multiple tracks from Poses and Want One ("Grey Gardens," "Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk," and "California," to name a few) a handful of tunes from an upcoming album, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and the closing number from his opera, Prima Donna, sung entirely in French. In front of a less adoring throng, such selections might be viewed as a tad self-indulgent, but it's Wainwright's self-indulgence that's part of his allure. However the artistic winds of the moment might be blowing around him, Wainwright remains, stridently, a creative island. If he wants to cut an album of original show tunes in the face of potential commercial peril, well, that's exactly what he'll do.
Dressed in a black shirt, bluejeans, and a silvery scarf/tie -- we'll call it a tarf -- Wainwright was customarily flirtatious and outgoing with his stage banter. After playing the tune "Gay Messiah," he remarked that "two out of ten boys in the audience look like the Gay Messiah. In New York, they all just look gay."
As if it weren't already obvious, Wainwright's interpretation of Cohen's classic affirmed that, as a vocal talent (to make no mention of his deft piano playing), Wainwright is virtually unequaled. Genetics (Wainwright's father and mother are both successful Canadian folksingers) have cast Wainwright's pipes in gold, and he lets his music luxuriate in that god-given goodness. It was enough to make us all but overlook the fact that we missed the Mad Men finale. But hey, that's what reruns are for, whereas Rufus Wainwright amidst Benaroya's perfect acoustics is hardly an everyday occurrence.