Monday, February 18, 2013

Beautiful Voices!

Hi everyone,

Last Tuesday, I headed down to 930 club to catch Rufus Wainwright on his "Solo" tour. I'd never seen him in concert before, though I have a couple of his covers on my iPod. Intrigued that he'd be playing alone, I didn't know what to expect. I hardly ever go to concerts on a hunch, but I had a good feeling about this one. Rufus has got talent.

I held off buying a ticket until the day of the show. I read a few days beforehand that another Wainwright would serve as the opening act and knew I'd regret not going to what was bound to be a special concert. Maybe sings with his musical family all the time and I just don't know it. In any case, you can't beat seeing someone cool in the intimacy of 930 club's tiny venue.

I arrived after work, feeling lucky and perplexed that the show was not yet sold out. About 20 other early birds and I waited in line for only a few minutes before being escorted into the club early through a side door I didn't know existed. I could get used to this V.I.P. treatment, but letting us in the room before the later arrivals must just be a new crowd-control strategy.

I typically like to be front and center for 930 club concerts so I can see the performers up close, but I headed up to the balcony for this one because I think the sound is better up there. Since I had no knowledge or expectations of what I'd be hearing, I wanted to hear it in the best spot.

© Lucy Wainwright Roche

I made a good choice because The Wainwrights are fantastic! The
opening act was Rufus Wainwright's little sister Lucy, who played a few of her own songs on acoustic guitar. Not only does she have a great voice and lovely sad songs set to happy tunes, she was also really chatty, friendly, and funny. She greeted us with, "So, you guys don't care about the State of the Union, huh?" After the first couple of songs, she asked, "Does anyone have any comments or questions so far?" People yelled out from the audience and, in her effort to help us get us to know her better, she actually answered most of the questions--everything from her favorite color to the kind of car she drives. (Actually, she didn't answer that one, saying, "It's a long story....It's on its last legs.") Some people in the audience knew her from her Science Channel show, Stuff You Should Know, which she discussed excitedly when asked about it. Someone near me commented, "She's delightful," which is a perfect description of Lucy Wainwright Roche. Her new album will be released in May.

When she mentioned that her half-hour set was coming to a close, people obligingly groaned with disappointment. "Oh, you're sweet," she said. "Don't be sad because Rufus is going to come out here, and he's going to blow your minds."

It was no lie. Her brother was amazing! The room filled up more and the crowd screamed louder for Rufus Wainwright. "Forget the Union, let's have some anarchy!" he suggested. "That's what you guys sound like...and I like it!"

© Rufus Wainwright
The only songs I knew were "The Maker Makes," which I recognized from Brokeback Mountain, and "Hallelujah," which everyone knows. But it didn't matter because all of the songs were great. They included "Martha," about his older sister, "Going to Town," which he dedicated to the House of Representatives, and "Memphis Skyline," which he wrote as tribute to Jeff Buckley. His sister showed up again to duet on a few songs too.

What impressed me most about this concert was hearing the bare bones of the music. He sang, playing on either a grand piano or Lucy's acoustic guitar, until one of its strings broke and the 930 club's sound guy came to the rescue with a spare instrument. "This is what happens when you don't sell enough records; you can't afford roadies," he said while waiting for the sound guy to get back to his spot.

I love these kinds of little mishaps that make a show intimate and one-of-a-kind. During a fantastic song, called "Vibrate," he missed a note and called out his mistake (which I didn't notice). While covering his mother's song, "The Walking Song," he thought he didn't play a piano section well enough. "That was no good. I have to do that again. It was the sandwich," he said, referring to his pre-show "vegetarian hoagie" dinner. Without interruption, he repeated that refrain to get it right. (It sounded fine to me both times.) We all laughed along when these things happened, as if we were joking around in his living room, but then snapped back immediately transfixed by each song.

I've always seen noisy bands at 930 club, great ones blasting electric guitars, drums, and booming bass lines, who get us jumping and singing along to every note. I've never been there in this atmosphere, with an audience so calmly attentive. The acoustics were perfect and all-encompassing. Rufus Wainwright's voice really commands a room! I expected that but also discovered he's an amazing musician. It was as if he were playing intricate classical music on that grand piano, layering it with a unique melody and well-written lyrics. All of the songs grabbed my attention and made me, for the most part, forget everything going on around me. That's a performer!

Here's a sampling, thanks to YouTube. He sang this song, "Montauk"--from his latest CD, Out of the Game--as part of the encore. This song made me want to run home and buy all of his albums. (You should too so that he can afford a roadie.)

© Studio Q

Don't miss Rufus Wainwright when he comes to your town or back here to D.C. He'll leave you inspired.

In the meantime, you can catch Lucy Wainwright Roche at The Kennedy Center as part of Millennium Stage's Songwriters Series on March 24th.  She mentioned it during her set and was disappointed that we didn't whip out our smart phones to mark our calendars. I prefer my mental calendar and plan to attend. Join me! She's delightful.


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