"Everyone says, 'Rufus is gonna make this pop record,'" Rufus Wainwright observed toward the end of his show last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. "But I feel like I've always been pop. It's just the world's been sort of bland!"
The line got a big laugh. It's true: Wainwright's back catalog has no shortage of sparkling melodies and exuberant showmanship. But it's also absolutely correct that his latest release – the Mark Ronson-produced Out of the Game – delivers more free-wheeling fun than any record Wainwright has cut in a decade. Last night, at the first of several North American shows for Out of the Game, he gave a performance to match.
Wainwright's new tunes demand a big live sound, so he brought a super-tight eight-piece band to BAM, including opener Teddy Thompson on guitar and two backup singers. Standing at center stage, resplendent in coattails and gold trousers, he led them through all of the LP's colorful California grooves, plus a selection of suitable old favorites (1998's "April Fools," 2004's "The Art Teacher," 2007's "Going to a Town"). The crowd ate up every note. By the end of the night, nearly all were out of their seats and dancing in the opera house's aisles.
There were somber moments, too. Early on, Wainwright dedicated 2004's "The One You Love" to the dearly departed Levon Helm, who drummed on the track. During a mid-show break, Thompson and backing vocalist Krystle Warren came out for a touching tribute to Wainwright's late mother, folk great Kate McGarrigle – singing her classic "Saratoga Summer Song" and "I Don't Know," as they did at a tearful memorial concert one year ago. Later, Wainwright's sister Martha turned up for a magnificently torchy rendition of McGarrigle's "Tell My Sister."
But for the most part, this was a night of pure pop joy. Wainwright encored with a heartfelt solo piano rendition of his 2001 ballad "Poses." Afterward, he took a deep bow, accepted a bouquet from someone in the front rows – his second of the night – and walked offstage with a delighted grin.
"Welcome to the Ball"
"Song of You"
"The One You Love"
"Saratoga Summer Song" (Teddy Thompson solo)
"I Don't Know" (Krystle Warren solo)
"Out of the Game"
"Sometimes You Need"
"One Man Guy"
"Going to a Town"
"The Art Teacher"
"Tell My Sister" (Martha Wainwright solo)