Rufus Wainwright, dubbed by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet,” might just be so. Wainwright joined the music industry in 1998 and reached No. 24 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers as well as being named Rolling Stone’s Best New Artist of the year.
The star brought his music to Campbell Hall on Tuesday night. Old and new fans enjoyed the concert as Wainwright played a variety of songs from each of his studio albums, including two from his newest album, released earlier this year and titled Out Of The Game as well as the song “Beauty Mark” from his very first self-titled album in 1998.
Yet when I excitedly told my friends that Rufus Wainwright was coming to play at UCSB, more than half of them replied with a skeptical, “Who?”
At first I was taken aback and wondered how anyone had survived their pre-adolescent years without arguably the most beautiful song on the Shrek soundtrack. However, when I arrived at Campbell Hall on Tuesday night at 8 p.m., I was greeted by a more mature audience who knew Wainwright for more than his cover of Jeff Buckley’s version of the Leonard Cohen original, “Hallelujah.”
When the show began, Wainwright walked on stage and straight to the piano, barely giving a glance to the audience. His hair was at its signature chin length and he was clad in an old-fashioned glitter-spangled suit. Without a second of hesitation, he started playing “The Art Teacher,” a melancholy song about a young girl in love with her art teacher. His prompt start to the concert gave me the impression that Wainwright would be taking the show, and himself, very seriously that night, but I was far from correct.
As the song ended, he immediately went into his next song, “The Love Affair,” which showcased his sultry reverberating vocals that parallel those of Thom Yorke or Matt Bellamy.
Just when I thought there was a reason everyone in the audience was twice my age, Wainwright switched into a more upbeat tune and began playing “Grey Gardens” from his second album, Poses.
Although all these songs come with heavy instrumental accompaniment in their studio versions, Wainwright proved that all he really needs to capture an audience is a piano and his voice.
He then turned to address the audience for the first time and shared his sentiments about the dreamlike world he calls Santa Barbara and the disturbing romance that comes with it.
There was definitely a sense of comfort amongst the audience with Wainwright and the night felt more like an intimate, albeit professional, jam session instead of an all- out performance. Wainwright’s witty quips would entice laughter and woops from the elderly while his singing inspired audible sighs of contentment.
Although Wainwright is, without a doubt, a master on the piano, he also took to the guitar every few songs, including his newest, unreleased song “Chic and Pointless,” which he told the audience was a secret.
On his return to the piano he performed a song from his album All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, which contains three songs that are written from Shakespearean sonnets.
The serious air brought on by Wainwright’s thick and dramatic vocals was shattered when he ended the song and informed us that he had been to the Rec Cen earlier that day and felt lecherous.
Wainwright continued his playful twists and turns between the serious and the jovial throughout the concert. After finishing a sleepy rendition of “Want” from his 2003 album Want One, he brought back the audience’s attention by discussing his recent trip to Australia and his marriage to partner Jörn Weisbrodt, which somehow ended with probably the most memorable quote of the night, “If Romney wins, you’re fucked.” This was his cue to begin the next song, “Going To A Town,” which features the appropriate lines, “I’m so tired of you, America.”
The show came to an end with an appropriate piece and an obvious audience favorite, from his 2001 album Poses, which everyone could recognize: “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” With a cabaret-inspired composition and his usual dramatic shifts between fast upbeat arpeggios and slow, drawn out chords, this song about all of Wainwright’s favorite cravings was the perfect way to end the night.
Except that it did not end the night after all. After thanking the audience for a great night and receiving a standing ovation, it didn’t take much to coax Wainwright back on stage for three more songs. His return to the piano was a no-brainer. Then came the moment the middle- schooler inside of me had been waiting for; Wainwright’s rendition of “Hallelujah” had everyone who was halfway out of Campbell Hall back in their seats in seconds. Wainwright played his final two songs – “Montauk” and “Poses” – before wishing us all to enjoy the mystical Santa Barbara experience.
For a few lucky souls, including students and community members from local LBTQ organizations, the time with Wainwright did not even end there. Arts & Lectures held a special private reception at Mosher Alumni House after the show and invited students, fans, press and the makers of some great wine (a bottle of which Wainwright took with him after the event, happily declaring, “Don’t worry, I’m not driving.”)
The reception was an excellent close to the already intimate night, as fans took pictures and had their A&L playbills autographed by the star. Wainwright joked and answered questions, proving that momentous talent and accessibility and kindness are not by any means mutually exclusive.