TVD Live Shots: Rufus Wainwright at the London Palladium, 10/19

He’s one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters in the world, and although Covid wrecked his original tour plans two years ago, three rescheduled year later the stars aligned, and it was worth the wait. Rufus Wainwright continues to be a creative force, pushing boundaries while injecting his passion for the arts into everything he does. He’s got the charisma, the charm, and the songbook backed by rave reviews. He consistently walks the line between ego and confidence—yet this was going to be a different kind of show, one that separates the casual fans from the devoted.

If you were expecting a greatest hits tour, he’s not there yet. This show would be a celebration of his stunning 9th studio album Unfollow the Rules. The entire record was played, along with a few cherry-picked selections from his catalog which fit the mood.

What was that mood? Elegance, art, storytelling, and a stripped-down band that laid a foundation and propped up on a pedestal the very reason everyone was there—that voice. Rufus has one of the most unique voices in the world, and it continues to evolve as he reinvents himself again and again through his love of opera and the fantastic Judy Garland songbook. But he always comes back to where he began, and that’s what Unfollow the Rules is all about.

Conceived initially for a full band, Covid had other plans, so we were treated with an almost full band. All the essentials were there however;  guitar, standup bass, keys, and of course Rufus on guitar and his grand piano. He opened the show with a string of his newest material, including my favorite song from the latest record, “Damsel in Distress” (which is the closest thing to classic Rufus we’ve heard in years, by the way). It was starting to look like the album would be played from start to finish, only to be interrupted by a few cover songs.

“La complainte de la butte” from Jean Renoir and the Neil Young classic “Harvest” would break from the album tracks only to jump back into Unfollow immediately afterward. Rufus mentioned an album he recorded called Northern Stars, which I somehow missed, but did manage to buy along with a slew of others at the merch booth in between sets. It’s a brilliant record celebrating some of the best Canadian artists, and a bonus that it was signed by Rufus.

The evening was split into two sets clocking in roughly an hour each. Rufus paid tribute to the late great Judy Garland wearing a pair of ruby slippers which seemed right at home here in London. Another highlight was the song that he wrote rather recently for Rebel Hearts, a documentary about a renegade order of socially activist nuns called “Secret Sister.” Since this was a night of surprises I had my fingers crossed that he would play a forgotten favorite of mine “Instant Pleasure,” but not this time.

All in, it was a brilliant night of music, and while a bit unexpected, it really showed us who Rufus is both inside and out. If you want the greatest hits set, check back in a few years, as he’s still got plenty of hits to come.

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