Rufus Wainwright is in the country, touring his new album All Days Are Nights. The show he’s put together has a certain schizophrenic charm. The first part is a straight run-through of the album, with projected visuals, gloomy lighting, and Rufus in costume, wearing something that’s a cross between a black bridal gown and a pageboy’s suit. It’s an enormously theatrical set, showcasing a very strong collection of songs. The stark setting works well, I think, highlighting the simplicity of one man at the piano. In the second half, he’s more relaxed, chatting and telling stories, and even forgetting the words to old favourites like Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk, allowing the audience to cheerfully yell out reminders.
There’s a discussion to be had here about an artist’s relationship to his audience, and what they can and can’t get away with. Any fluffed lines in the carefully rehearsed and constructed first half of the show would have been unacceptable in the heightened atmosphere he had created. This sepulchural feel was extended to include a request that there be no applause until he had left the stage at the end. His walk-off was part of the act. This has raised some eyebrows and comments, and it was a request that was ignored at his show in Glasgow. I think it’s fair enough to ask for this, but there was a palpable sense of relief in the second half. It’s also interesting to note that his request that there be no photography in the first half was respected, but also taken as a tacit approval for the cameras to come out for the second half. Which they did, with a vengeance. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a theatre gig, and it was interesting to see that the stop and search approach for cameras that seemed to be the case a couple of years ago seems to have evaporated. Madame WDW was accompanying TLC and I, and was certainly making the most of the opportunity, taking photos and shooting video with her new Flip HD. But then, let’s face it. You can’t very well confiscate everyone’s phones at the door, and a couple of YouTube vids of Rufie fluffing the second verse of Cigarettes is hardly going to hurt his profile.
Separating new and old material quite so directly is bound to be a polarising approach, though, and Rufus Wainwright is not for everyone. A couple to the right of us couldn’t wait to get out of the theatre, tutting “I hope you won’t force me to watch that rubbish again.” I thought it was a bold approach that suited Rufus’ theatricality. This is, after all, a man that has written his own opera, which is not something you can say for your average singer-songwriter. Furthermore, performing All Days Are Nights in it’s entirety meant that there was none of the “here’s something off the new album” moment that’s normally a cue in a gig for a rush to the loos. He made the new material an event in and of itself, and by creating a church-like atmosphere, gave these songs of mourning and release a framework and context that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. But it did mean that the audience was slightly tentative in the second half, and Rufus had to remind us that it was OK to applaud – hence the quote that makes up my title. There was a genuine air of not knowing what to expect – which I think is unusual in a rock show these days. I’d imagine there was a certain set of expectations – after all, he was touring a bare-bones set of piano ballads based around the death of his mother. I think if you wanted show tunes and costumes you were an album too late.
On the whole, then, one of the more unusual gigs that I’ve attended recently – and one of the most memorable.
Here’s a taster, with my favourite song on the album thus far. This is Zebulon.