Rufus Wainwright - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 5 Mar 2014 (4 stars)

The baroque pop artiste imbues his modern material with class and elegance

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Rufus Wainwright - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 5 Mar 2014

Rufus Wainwright may have dabbled in musicals, operas and orchestras but tonight is stripped back to basics. No backing band, just the purity of one man singing at a grand piano. He sometimes switches to guitar, and is joined by his half-sister Lucy Wainwright Rose on two occasions, but it’s the clear honesty of the vocals that sells tonight’s show, and it’s perfect fit for the Usher Hall’s centenary celebrations.

In Wainwright’s hands even the most modern of love songs – such as opener ‘Vibrate’ with its chorus of ‘My phone's on vibrate for you’ – is imbued with class and elegance. Wainwright has a wonderful self-deprecating charm that draws you into his performance. Cutting his finger while playing guitar on ‘Out of the Game’, it becomes a running joke, but one that unfortunately does effect his playing until he’s handed a pick by an audience member.

Wainwright’s sense of humour is exemplified when, after a rumbling intro, ‘Liza Minnelli’ joins him on stage for ‘Me and Liza’ (in reality it’s his sister in a wig). Dipping into country, gospel, pop and showtune traditions, his voice occasionally overwhelms these delicate arrangements, but for the most part, the lack of accompaniment means the sentiment of tracks – including ‘Gay Messiah’, ‘Candles’, ‘Tired of America’ and ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ – are packed with even more emotion. Naturally, the encore features his take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a track covered so many times it struggles to retain any meaning, but this heartfelt rendition reminds you what a painfully beautiful song it really is (even though there’s a small break when Wainwright ‘fucks it up’). Sometimes less really is more.

Rufus Wainwright - Vibrate

Rufus Wainwright

The American-Canadian singer-songwriter performs his baroque pop on a greatest hits tour.

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