A star spangled banner formed the dramatic backdrop to Rufus Wainwright and his seven piece band at their recent Brisbane performance. However the banner in question was far from what one would traditionally expect from an American flag. As pointed out by Rufus at one point throughout the evening, the flag was painted in black and white stripes to represent all the bad things about America, and instead of the usual depiction of stars, the banner was garnished with an assortment of brilliantly metallic brooches to represent all the beautiful things about America.
The banner’s theme was reflected by the band’s attire, which instantly grabbed the attention of the eye as they made their entrance onto the stage. Each band member wore a wide array of coloured striped pants and shirts reflective of their own individual style. The stunning display did not end there, as every member of the band was also richly decorated in a variety of uniquely styled brooches that glistened and sparkled under the lights. Taking to their instruments with relish, there was an unmistakable energy in the room as the music paved the way for the eventual entrance of the glorious Rufus Wainwright.
Without too much delay he arrived, and the theatrical troupe was now complete. As wonderful as all the band member’s looked, Rufus most definitely outshone them with his fantastic red and white striped suit (minus a shirt), gold metallic shoes, and an almost startling collection of jewels which he seemed to wear wherever bare skin was available – fingers, wrists, and around his neck. His fabulousness was completed by a healthy smattering of silver brooches across his suit jacket and down his pant legs.
Launching straight into the title track from his latest album ‘Release the Stars’, the room sparkled in dancing-mirror-ball-magic and was hushed in appreciation of Rufus’ mastery of dramatic showmanship. And what a show it was! In the audience it felt that Rufus and his band would perform with the same level of intensity and pizazz regardless of where they were performing, whether that be to a packed house on Broadway, or a venue built on a much smaller scale such as Brisbane’s Tivoli.
As to be expected, the night’s musical set drew heavily from the current album’s repertoire including ‘Do I Disappoint You’, ‘Between My Legs’, ‘Rules and Regulations’, ‘Going to a Town’ and ‘Not Ready to Love’. One of the standout highlights from this album was the beautiful simplicity and raw honesty of ‘Leaving for Paris No 2′ which featured Rufus on piano accompaniment.
There was more than enough on offer to please fans of his earlier work as well, including ‘Poses’, ‘Gay Messiah’, and a wonderfully emotionally wrought performance of ‘The Art Teacher’. Rufus worked the room with so much more than his musical talents. His costume changes could not fail to be mentioned given that they added so much to the ‘show’.
Following a short interval, the band returned with Rufus decked out in traditional Bavarian lederhosen. However rather than lose all the sparkle, he chose to retain the beautiful necklace and flashy bracelet from his earlier outfit – a wonderful blend of masculinity and feminine beauty. Between songs Rufus enjoyed a comfortable banter with the audience, telling us of his liking for Byron Bay Surf lifesavers, pronouncing himself as the ‘Queen of Queensland’, and his generally unsuccessful attempts at tackling an Australian accent.
With a raucous rendition of ’14th Street’ ( Why’d you have to break all my heart?) which raised the performance energy to a higher level, Rufus exited the stage and left his band to individually ‘sign off’ musically and exit one by one. It was a visual representation of parting being ‘such sweet sorrow’.
The stage was not left bare for too long however. After all there is always time for one more costume change, and Rufus did not disappoint. Returning to the stage in a large white bathrobe, the only hint of what lay beneath was a glimpse of stockinged legs. After performing for a short while like this, the play entered another act. Sitting on a chair at the front of the stage Rufus made as if he was sneaking into his mother’s precious things – jewelling himself up once again with earrings and a ring, before applying a rich red lipstick and swapping his sensible shoes for some seriously high heels.
Then as the band returned to the stage all in black suits, bowties and pale pink shirts, Rufus moved to the back of the stage to disrobe…and then all was revealed. Wearing the top half of a tuxedo, hat, and just the stockings beneath, Rufus ramped up the razzle dazzle factor with a fun performance of Judy Garland’s ‘Get Happy’, that had everyone on stage play acting along with the best of them.
With a traditional stage goodbye which had the cast line up before us and take a bow, the band left the stage with a kiss blown from the hand of Rufus. A fitting end to a lovingly crafted performance.