Photo of Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright
Stroud Subscription Rooms 17th February 2024

Once described by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet”, Rufus Wainwright is filling his weekend with two small intimate shows, including the recently refurbished Stroud Subscription Rooms, between rehearsals for his new musical, “Opening night”, with Sheridan Smith. Opportunities to see Wainwright in venues of this size are few and far between, so it is no surprise the venue is bursting at the seams.

The minimalist stage setting consists of a grand piano and an acoustic guitar, but that is all Wainright needs tonight – the theatrics and costumes of his younger days now replaced with a set stripped back to reveal how haunting and full of humour his songs are. An accomplished piano player, Wainwright launches straight into an audacious trilogy of tracks from his 2003/4 Want albums. The stunning “Agnes Dei”, sung in Latin, the sumptuous “Vibrate” and “Pretty things” all highlight how his vocal range has developed over the last two decades allowing for more depth and feeling than his younger self often managed.  The pace quickly picks up as he switches to acoustic guitar for the Mark Ronson produced (almost hit) “Out of the game” and more recent “Peaceful afternoon”.

Wainright maintains the pace of the show by alternating between piano and guitar every three songs until his encore whilst interspersing his songs with humorous anecdotes about finding a poster of his father, Loudon Wainwright III, in his dressing room and revealing a hugely busy schedule of musicals, operas, writing and travelling which clearly leaves little time for live performances such as tonight’s. This is apparent in his frequent lyrical mistakes which he make good humour off and appears to brush off easily.

A final encores of “Poses” and, perhaps, his most famous (courtesy of the Shrek soundtrack) cover, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” should have rounded the evening off in style, but despite having sung one of Cohen’s most famous songs for twenty years Wainright completely messes up the words, multiple times. But again, he carries this off with dignity and humour and the audience love him all the more for it rescuing him by singing along. Performers like Wainright don’t often grace small intimate acoustic shows such as this so when they do it makes it that little more special. Let’s hope he enjoyed it as much as the audience and returns before too long…

By: Dave Roberts

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