“The last time I saw Rufus Wainwright he was in the bar at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, holding court dressed as Puccini,” opened a 2013 review of one of his concerts in the Liverpool Echo.
It’s a wonderful characterisation that perfectly encapsulates Wainwright: an opera composer, a vocalist whose songs drift from American crooning to Dylanesque folk, combining both classic and contemporary in his performances.
Wainwright’s colourful life makes for good music. You can tell that his childhood in a home filled with folk musicians influenced his style, and yet he walked out of music school to go it alone on his first album. Acoustics and pianos are obvious in everything he does, yet electric guitars are also used in some of the tracks, often accompanied by rock ‘n’ roll rhythms or soaring orchestral-backed choruses.
Wainwright’s social commentary and reflections in his lyrics are accurate and personal – “Why am I always on a plane or a fast train?” and “From wanting to be someone, now I’m drunk and wearing flip-flops on Fifth Avenue” – and delivered in inimitable style.
His voice can be one of a low, slow slightly drawling crooner or biting, attacking and staccato. Wainwright’s soaring tunes and choral backing can comfortably fill an arena, or he can sit at a piano and quietly break your heart. Wainwright is a performer who must be seen as much as he must be heard.