What a night: Packed house roars for Rufus

Rufus Wainwright
at Old Cabell Hall
September 26

"I'm a gay-making machine!" said Rufus Wainwright Friday night at his concert in Old Cabell Hall. The comment was in reference to his blatant love-song, "Harvester of Hearts," from his latest album, Want One, which Wainwright wrote for a particular gentleman "who said he was straight." Wainwright continued, "After he heard this song, he was gay."

Witty stage banter was but one of the artist's charms on display as Wainwright, alone on the stage with just a grand piano and an acoustic guitar, had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

The show at Old Cabell had, as expected, sold out, with the line to get in stretching to an unbelievable length-­ it was plain Wainwright's fame, built on his two previous releases, his 1998 self titled debut, and 2001s Poses, had preceded him.

The show began with a short set by singer/songwriter Andy Waldeck, whose flat-top acoustic guitar and simple songs (sometimes verging on Jeff Buckley simplicity) made many in the audience consider getting out more to see Charlottesville's local musicians. But before long, Waldeck was off the stage, and Wainwright entered, stage right, to a tumultuously cheering house.

He quickly went into his hit "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," a song that begins simply but takes off in unexpected directions– the performer's piano skills shone over and over again during the course of the show, and this first tune set the piano virtuoso tone for the evening. Combining classically informed playing with pop melodies (though often of a more complex way than normally found on Top 40 radio) has been Wainwright's ticket away from standard rock radio, and the evening's set, which drew songs from the performer's three albums, put this salient feature of his sound on prominent display.

"Pretty Things," from Want One, was next­ the track is one of the few on the new album on which Wainwright demonstrates how "less is more." It consists solely of the musician's voice and his pianoРand his performance was almost indistinguishable from the recording.

Wainwright switched from the piano to the acoustic guitar for his next few tunes, trading off between the two instruments for the rest of the set at three-to-four song intervals. "11:11," a sweet and simple song Wainwright described as having been written "half before 9-11, and half after" was one of his early guitar forays, and though his playing was free of errors, it was slightly sloppy, and it was hard not to feel that compared to his amazing ability at the keys, his guitar songs suffered more from the absence of a band than did his piano excursions.

A track from the upcoming Want Two, "The Gay Messiah," was probably the highlight of the show– although for lyrical content rather than song-smithing. Good melody, great idea, and includes the lines: "They will demand my head / And the lord will kneel down and give it to him."

What else really needs to be said?

Rufus Wainwright