Rufus Wainwright LIVE! at SOPAC

Spotlight Central
Spotlight Central

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By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Music lovers patiently wait this Saturday, April 6, 2024 evening inside South Orange, NJ’s SOPAC for a sold-out concert by musician Rufus Wainwright. The Canadian-American singer/songwriter is not only known for producing critically acclaimed studio albums including 2001’s Poses, but for performing on television on shows such as Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration and Tony Bennett Celebrates 90, in addition to providing songs for motion pictures including I Am Sam, Moulin Rouge, Zoolander, and Shrek.

Recalls Sharon from Bloomfield, “I’ve been a fan of Rufus since 2001. A friend of mine in L.A. sent me his music and I was like, ‘Oh my God — that’s it!’ I bought several of his CDs and have seen him at least 25 times since — the last time at a concert with some members of his musical family,” explaining, “As many people know, his parents are musicians Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, his aunts are Anna McGarrigle and Sloan Wainwright, and his sister is Martha Wainwright.”

Continuing, “I love his baritone voice, and his lyrics completely speak to me,” Sharon adds, “Plus, I’ve always been a fan of Leonard Cohen, and Rufus has a connection to him because he has two children with Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca,” before joking, “With this entire lineage of musical brilliance, his children had better become musicians!”

Remarks Kimberly from Union City, “I’ve been a fan of Rufus Wainwright for the past eight years. His music is from the heart, and he has a song about every life experience and emotion. Everything about his music appeals to me — the lyrics, the melodies, the emotion — but I’m a singer, so I especially love listening to his voice.”

Lastly, Michael from South Orange suggests, “Rufus Wainwright is a man of many talents. In addition to writing songs, he also composes operas, which is a rare feat,” prior to noting, “Tonight will be my first time experiencing his music live. He’s reached a certain level of maturity with his work, so I’m very happy to be seeing him here at this time.”

The lights in the SOPAC auditorium dim and the crowd cheers as Wainwright enters the stage, takes a seat at the grand piano, and opens tonight’s show with his song, “Grey Gardens.”

Singing with power on this opera-inspired pop tune, Wainwright’s warm baritone voice fills the room as he inspires the crowd with his impressive vocal, instrumental, and compositional skills.

The audience avidly applauds, and Wainwright responds, “It’s so great to be back at SOPAC.” Referring to a number of photographs he saw hanging backstage, he jokes, “My family is on the walls — it’s like we’re all living here!”

Wainwright follows up with his melancholy and captivating ballad, “The Maker Makes,” where his slow, simple piano accompaniment compliments the long tones of his rich baritone voice as he sings with feeling, “One more chain I break/To get me closer to you/One more chain does the maker make/To keep me from bustin’ through.”

Music lovers applaud, and Wainwright explains, “This is a song I do to warm up my voice, so it’s really just a vocal exercise.” Accompanying himself on the piano with only his left hand, Wainwright’s vocal soars on “Vibrate” as he effortlessly holds out notes, eliciting enthusiastic applause from music lovers in the crowd.

While switching over from piano to acoustic guitar, Wainwright talks about his busy schedule these days when he acknowledges, “I did a show last night in Connecticut, but I was confused — I thought I was in a rehearsal at times,” to which a fan calls out, “It was fantastic!” Explaining further, Wainwright jokes, “I just did my musical, Opening Night, in London and, in Paris, they’re premiering my Requiem Mass — so, yeah, I need to see someone!”

Moving on to “Out of the Game,” Wainwright strums his guitar as he sings this easy-going pop song with its memorable “Look at you, look at you, look at you, look at you, suckers” refrain. He follows up with “Gay Messiah,” a folk tune in 6/8 time on which he impresses concertgoers with his gorgeous falsetto voice on the interlude.

Explaining that his next song — which comes from his opera, Hadrian — is one which he “turned into a little ditty,” Wainwright strums his guitar like a balladeer on “He Loved.” His legato vocal calls out as he croons, “In one way was I true/In one way was I true,” on this arrangement which features a shifting “3+3+2” meter.

Going back to the piano, Wainwright performs his story song, “The Art Teacher.” As he tells the tale about a young girl’s crush on her art instructor, Wainwright’s Mozartian piano part moves in contrast to his legato vocal line before ending with quickly arpeggiated chords which elicit appreciative hoots and hollers from the crowd.

After revealing, “I did a concert in London of Kurt Weill songs which was filmed and should be released soon,” Wainwright notes, “I wrote a new song called ‘Old Song,’ which is my ode to Kurt Weill.” On “Old Song,” Wainwright’s melody sounds like an opera recitative, but he quickly changes the mood as he segues into another composition, “Early Morning Madness,” where slow minor chords underscore his longing vocal before he symphonically crescendoes prior to returning to a melancholy melody filled with emotion.

Switching back over to guitar, Wainwright performs “Peaceful Afternoon,” a country-ish love song in waltz time on which he croons, “And I pray that your face is the last I see/On a peaceful afternoon,” while deftly accompanying himself with rapid guitar strumming.

Wainwright asks, “Can I play you a song from my new musical?” The crowd responds in the affirmative, and Wainwright explains that his stage musical, Opening Night, is based on the 1977 John Cassavetes film of the same name. On “Ready for Battle” — a number which the show’s main character, Myrtle, sings before going on stage — Wainwright moves while singing and playing his guitar, drawing the audience into his theatrical performance of this heartrending show tune.

Deadpanning, “Now I’m going to liven up the room by singing a Leonard Cohen song,” Wainwright performs “So Long Marianne,” where he croons, “Now so long, Marianne/It’s time that we began to laugh/And cry and cry and laugh about it all again,” on this poignant folk tune.

Following large applause, Wainwright takes a seat at the piano, and the crowd cheers when they recognize the introduction to “Poses.”

Wainwright’s piano accompaniment sounds like an orchestra as it supports his plaintive voice on this lush arrangement until he suddenly stops and exclaims, “I made the same mistake last night!” Continuing where he left off, his flawless finish inspires even greater cheers and applause from the crowd.

Acknowledging, “I don’t have a place in New Jersey, but I do have one in Montauk,” Wainwright confesses, “I’m so looking forward to going there this summer.” Launching into “Montauk,” Wainwright’s intricate arpeggiated piano accompaniment contrasts with his legato vocal melody as he croons, “One day you will come to Montauk/And you will see your dad wearing a kimono/And see your other dad pruning roses/Hope you won’t turn around and go.”

Revealing, “I wrote this next song when my mother, Kate McGarrigle, was in the hospital, so she kind of haunts it,” Rufus confesses, “but it’s really about my first love.” Here, Wainwright performs a poignant rendition of “Zebulon,” where he lays his soul bare crying, “Where you been, Zebulon?/What you doin’ in this song?/Skating on the ice of song, about to go under,” on this touching ballad.

To conclude tonight’s show, Wainwright performs his happy-go-lucky “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” where he sings, “Cigarettes and chocolate milk/These are just a couple of my cravings,” and demonstrates his considerable piano chops as he plays cascading runs and chords on the interlude of this charming ditty.

The audience stands and cheers and Wainwright bows and leaves the stage, saying, “Thank you so much, goodnight!” He returns to the piano to perform an encore of “Going to a Town.” The song’s haunting piano part and lyrics build to a crescendo on this pessimistic ballad about the United States in which he changes the lyric, “I’m so tired of America,” to “I’m so tired of Republicans” before sneaking in the line “and the Supreme Court, as well.”

The audience cheers as Wainwright segues into a second encore of Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece, “Hallelujah.”

Accompanied by arpeggiated piano playing, Wainwright’s voice wails, “Hallelujah, hallelujah/Hallelujah, hallelujah,” captivating the audience and inspiring yet another standing ovation at which point Rufus bows, waves, and exits the stage exclaiming, “I love you, New Jersey!”

As concertgoers exit the SOPAC auditorium, several comment on Wainwright’s performance tonight. Remarks Wayne from Denville, “I loved the show — it was superb! Rufus is a wonderful performer, so it’s really nice to see him when he performs locally, especially in an intimate venue like SOPAC.” Wayne’s wife, Heather, agrees, adding, “I just loved tonight’s show! I couldn’t wait to get here this evening because Rufus just touches you with his music — I love his voice and I love him!” The couple’s friend, Randy from Morristown, reveals, “I’d never seen Rufus before tonight — I’d heard his music and seen him on TV — but he was great live, and this was the perfect venue in which to see him perform.”

Simone from Brooklyn, NY concurs, declaring, “I came to New Jersey to see Rufus, and it was worth the trip!” Recalling, “I’ve been a fan ever since I was little — my parents played ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ all the time so my sister and I grew up listening to it — plus I remembered his version of ‘Hallelujah’ from Shrek,” Simone adds, “Rufus was just incredible! He put on an intimate, really beautiful show, and he was just wonderful with the crowd.”

Lastly, Sandy from Neptune asserts, “I love Rufus! He’s so soulful, he makes me cry. His voice goes right to my heart. He’s very deep — not just his music, but everything about him — his poise and personality,” before concluding, “For me, he just shines — he’s the whole package!”

To learn more about Rufus Wainwright, please click on rufuswainwright.com. For information on great upcoming performances at SOPAC — including Paula Cole on June 1, Lucy Kaplansky and Livingston Taylor on June 14, Roger McGuinn on September 14, and Suzanne Vega on September 28 — please click on sopacnow.org.

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