November 8, 2008
The Jackie Gleason Theatre at the Fillmore Miami Beach
Better Than: Crooning a Storybook
They call it a Rubus. In theory, one suspects the thing is related to the centaur (half man/half horse), the mandrake (half man/half plant) and the Minotaur (half man/half bull); in practice it’s a helluva lot more practical than any of ‘em. I mean, beasts have always been burdensome rides and State Troopers don’t take kindly to mythological creatures tooling along on our highways. That’s not to say that this beastly creature isn’t mythological, but it is enough of a modern day hybrid to escape the scrutiny of most law enforcement officials.
It also happens to be the vehicle commandeered by a dozen European travelers in order to follow Rufus Wainwright as he treks across Florida. Rufus, for his part, was charmed by the effort. In fact, he “love[s] it.” Or so he said from the stage anyway. Then again, if twelve rabid fans were on your tail day-in and day-out, you’d probably try to humor them too.
But after catching Wainwright’s set last night, I got the feeling this wasn’t the first gaggle to turn their devotion into obsession – and it undoubtedly won’t be the last.
From the get the obsession is evident, as is the devotion, and the crowd’s rousing roar quickly subsides into utter silence. Even I felt compelled to put a lid on myself, literally tip-toeing around the foot of the stage as I snapped off a few shots. Then I got down on one knee, and I prayed.
Okay, so I didn’t pray. But I sure did genuflect. And to be before Wainwright as he sits alone at the piano and croons through a few of his tunes was an honor worthy of the bow.
It also was without question the closest I’ve come to being silenced in probably forever, and you know what? – I didn’t mind it a bit. Every once in awhile it’s nice to just be still and listen, and if anything, Rufus instills listening.
One of those “Boardies” on the Rubus surely knows better than I which song followed which in Rufus’s set, though if they were at all as struck as I was, keeping track of tracks was beside the point. I do recall him singing, in no particular order, “Nobody’s Off the Hook,” “Little Sister,” and “Sansouci,” surely the only pop song ever sung about Frederick the Great’s Potsdam palace.
And I do remember cheering along with everyone else when Wainwright switched the lyrics of “Going to a Town” from “I’m so tired of America” to “I’m not tired of America.” Yes, like every other sane person in the world, Wainwright’s truly psyched that Obama won the U.S. presidential election. And though later in the song he did voice his displeasure at both California and Florida for coming out against gay marriage, Rufus pretty much remained basking in a robust post-election glow.
Still, “I believe in freedom,” he said when the song ended. And how both states refused to sanction such a thing especially after such a victory seemed to have puzzled Rufus almost as much as it did me.
Anyway I also recall Rufus telling the house about those crazy folks and their Rubus, and him honoring the followers’ request to sing something from Sonnets, his upcoming collaboration with the inimitable Robert Wilson. And I recall too that Rufus prefaced this singing of Shakespeare with a quick reading of the sonnet itself, and that he fucked-up the chorus of the song, had to begin again and still never lost any momentum.
Mostly though I recall lines of lyrics that twist and soar and sneak and peek and dip and turn and twirl with a grace and a beauty seldom found in something as seemingly banal as pop music. I remember being thrilled when he sealed the set with Poses’ “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” chilled when he encored with Want One’s “Dinner at Eight,” and, finally, completely stilled as he followed with a rapturous rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.” And then I distinctly remember thinking there could be no better end to a perfect evening of song.
Personal Bias: Smart pop always makes me feel less dumb.
Random Detail: Wainwright wore sandals, which is the only thing I would’ve had him change.
By the Way: I was a little disappointed that Rufus didn’t sing “Do I Disappoint You,” which is one of my favorites. But the cat’s so damn endearing, it’s kinda difficult to be disappointed with him for anything, at least for long anyway.
-- John Hood