Rufus Wainwright, Rhodes: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool


Rufus Wainwright brought his carnival of sharp-tongued humour and well-crafted songs to the Philharmonic. Getintothis’ Emma Walsh saw the funny side of things with jerky body movements, catty comments and bumbling audience members.

For lowly gig reviewers accustomed to sticky-floored venues and warm bottled beer, going upmarket (and uphill) for a night at The Philharmonic is a welcome excuse to don the gladrags.
All dressed up and on best behaviour we took our seats for the poorly attended support act Rhodes; a skinny jeaned singer-songwriter with a flamboyant hand and tourettes of the left leg.
Playing easy listening pop folk with heart on the sleeve lyrics, every strum of the guitar Rhodes‘ was accompanied by a hand flicked out as though to punctuate the heartfelt lyrics.
All the while his left leg jutted in and out and stretched onto tiptoes with every swell of the melody. The scattered audience assumed respectful silence and polite applause for Rhodes.
Alas, the bumbling fuss of two latecomers trying to find their allotted seats in an auditorium that could generously be called half full, was too powerful a distraction from the music.
The pair stood checking tickets by the light of their phones, fussing over row and seat numbers, debating in whispers what they should do. It proved an almighty distraction for Getintothis and the little group of miscreants in the back rows.
The hushed giggles erupted into full-scale hysterics as one of the latecomers tried to climb over a row of seats, quickly followed by attempts to politely cough over the giggles and calm shaking shoulders. Poor Rhodes, we really weren’t laughing at you, we promise.
Rufus Wainwright: so talented he can play the piano in his sleep
The main attraction of the night however had us rolling in the aisles. Typically camp, witty and tall, Rufus Wainwright began by apologising for his less than typical attire. Fresh (or perhaps not) from Glastonbury, he was a little less formal than usual in jeans and t-shirt.
However, with Wainwright’s charm and charisma, he could have been dressed in a silk robe, martini glass in one hand, cigarette in the other as he sat at his grand piano sharing anecdotes about handsome young men, the Rolling Stones and Jeff Buckley.
Few other artists could create such a sense of cosy intimacy in such a grand venue as The Philharmonic but coming from such a great music dynasty as the Wainwrights, Rufus’ comfort and ease in the spotlight is hardly surprising.
The applause and cheers that met each song was matched by the laughter that followed each story, there are award winning stand-up comics who have graced that stage and created barely half as much cheer.
Proving as proficient on guitar as when tickling the ivories, Wainwright delved into a great wealth of songs, brushing the dust off some old classics such as Cigarettes and Alcohol and Going to a Town, a conscious act, he says, in the wake of turning 40.
He recalls the mean New York music scene which he tried to crack in the nineties; Jeff Buckley epitomising the ‘heroin chic’ of the era while he struggled to find a market for show tunes.
Giving a heartfelt performance of his tribute to Buckley, Memphis Skyline, he seamlessly eased into Hallelujah, raising more than a few hushed ‘wows’ across the auditorium.
Rufus Wainwright tickled more than the ivories at the Philharmonic Hall
It’s impossible not to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into Wainwright’s songwriting, he theatrically jokes that he will not spare the audience ‘the pain’ as he begins another classic from his catalogue.
Each lament is laid bare before the audience, unembellished but for the added drama of the grand piano or acoustic guitar, and bookended by jocular and scintillating repartee.
The introduction of a bright orange Hello Kitty guitar picked up on his travels to Korea underpin the contrast of humour and sorrow that characterise Wainwright’s unique style.
Witty repartee, clever songwriting and a golden touch on the piano, Wainwright is of a rare breed of entertainer, a taste of classic New York, and the latest addition to Getintothis’ ‘people we’d love to have a drink with’ list.
Only too happy to please his adoring fans, we were treated to a Shakespearean sonnet and two encores, and in return he graciously received three standing ovations. A true gent.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Sakura.
Further reading on Getintothis:
Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Richard Hawley: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Edwyn Collins: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Ray Davies: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool