Rufus Wainwright – Colston Hall, Bristol – 23 April 2010

Ten great gigs from 2010: #4

Rufus Wainwright performing in Chicago. Photo by Sharat Ganapati.

The operatic son of a musical dynasty, Rufus Wainwright took a step back from the compositional pomp of his back catalogue when his mother, family matriarch Kate McGarrigle, died in January. The resultant album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, was a fraught affair, in which his voice – backed only by a solo piano – addressed his family more than the record-buying public.

Its transition to the Bristol stage brought with it additional dramatic effect. Solemnly taking to the stage, endowed with a black cloak as long as the Colston Hall stage, Wainwright performed the album in its stark entirety (the pre-concert request for no applause between songs was met with bemused laughter around the auditorium) beneath a backdrop of projected slowly-blinking eyes.

It was a self-indulgent but effective realisation of the record, stilling the packed auditorium and maximising the emotional punch of songs including ‘Martha’ and the grief-stricken closer ‘Zebulon’.

Despite a second half of his customary show-stoppers, the melodramatic first act left a more lasting impression. The set’s success required the audience to make an imaginative, almost inappropriate leap into Wainwright’s personal space – those that did were welcomed in, and weren’t disappointed.

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