Rufus Wainwright at MN Zoo, 8/11/12

Rufus Wainwright at MN Zoo, 8/11/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Rufus Wainwright
With Adam Cohen and Krystle Warren
MN Zoo Amphitheater, Apple Valley
Saturday, August 11, 2012

See Also:
Slideshow: Rufus Wainwright at MN Zoo

Rufus Wainwright: forever talented and always entertaining. To a hushed, sold-out audience, the singer approached the darkened stage to open with the hymn-like "Candles." Backed by his talented band, Rufus spent more time out from behind the piano and performed pieces from his new album Out of the Game intermingled with hits from prior albums and a few covers. The weather, company, and music could not have been more perfect for a mid-August evening concert.

As if he needed an introduction, Wainwright stated simply, "Hello, Minneapolis. I'm Rufus Wainwright. I'm happy to be here," as the lights came on to reveal the singer in a lounge jacket and pants with the most personality that the zoo has ever seen -- pants that could easily have come straight straight off the back of a milk cow. Dancing to the opening strains of "Barbara," Rufus wastes no time in keeping the show moving along, claiming, "It's a beautiful place; let's keep it rocking."

With some artists, sometimes lyrics don't matter, but with Rufus lyrics certainly do. Each piece is story-driven, especially on "The One You Love," a song based on the tale and memory of a love coming to a bittersweet ending. The title track from his latest album Out of the Game, has all of the elements of a classic Rufus Wainwright song: a catchy hook,

Rufus Wainwright at MN Zoo, 8/11/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

As witty as he is endearing, the singer can easily charm a group of people -- whether it be a table full of friends for a dinner party or an audience full of fans -- evident in his regaling of an interview given by Liza Minnelli and her reaction to his Judy Garland covers. Rufus shares that Minnelli was asked if she had ever heard Wainwright's versions of Judy's songs, to which Minnelli replied, "Of course not. Why would I ever do that?" A vexed Rufus asked the audience, "Isn't her mom from Minnesota? That's not very Midwest of her. Must be more of the Minnelli side, so I have to do a song and dedicate it to her. It's called 'The Bitch That Got Away.'" The hilarious version of "The Man That Got Away" had him pointedly calling Minnelli out with the lyrics, "The road gets rougher, It's lonelier and tougher, With hope you burn up, Liza."

As a tip of the hat to his father, Wainwright invited his guitarist Teddy Thompson and backup singer Charice Blackman to help him with "One Man Guy," introducing it as, "A song about a man; it's about my dad." The three musicians harmonized and traded lead vocals, conveying the piece in a simple, poetic fashion, that would have done Loudon Wainwright proud.

While lovely and confident with his full band, it's amazing to see Rufus solo onstage with just him and his piano. On "Art Teacher," the singer aptly interprets the vulnerability of a lonely, old woman who looks back on a schoolgirl crush, while "Going to Town" -- dedicated to the shooting Sikh temple shooting in Milwaukee -- tells of someone who is disillusioned by his current state.

Rufus Wainwright at MN Zoo, 8/11/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Saving his best pieces for last, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" opened up Wainwright's encore performance, following with a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel #2," where he invited opener -- and Leonard's son -- Adam Cohen to the stage to sing with him. Being the last evening with Adam, Rufus gifted Cohen his lounge jacket, which he had worn on David Letterman at the beginning of the tour, that must have had many night's worth of sweat and memories soaked into the fabric. Ending on "Bitter Tears," the evening absolutely did not. To be serenaded outdoors by Rufus and the grasshoppers that kept their own rhythm, an evening like this -- borrowing a line from his first hit "April Fools" --  makes you believe in love, and all that it's supposed to be.

Critic's bias: I am more familiar with Rufus Wainwright's older works, but am excited to see how far this new album will take him. 

The crowd: NPR folks.

Overheard in the crowd: "Meet me in Montauk."

Random notebook dump: Why do people leave before the encore?


Grey Gardens
April Fools
The One You Love
Respectable Dive
Out of the Game
Perfect Man
The Man That Got Away
One Man Guy
Art Teacher
Going to Town
14th Street

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
Chelsea Hotel #2
Bitter Tears

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