Rufus Wainwright: Toronto The Guvernment

On the eve of releasing his brilliant album 'Poses', the troubadour proves his time has come...

“Today, I’m dressed like Cheryl Tiegs,” purrs Rufus Wainwright, gamely drawing attention to his courageous wardrobe decision (black vest sans shirt, skin tight burgundy pants). In between liberal glugs of beer and dainty puffs on borrowed cigarettes, he namechecks Janet Jackson, Jackie Onassis and quotes random passages from ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. Needless to say, our Matinee Idol is in typically campy form.

Here to showcase songs from ‘Poses’, his oft-delayed sophomore effort, Wainwright is joined onstage by a formidable five piece band, sister Martha and fellow folk-singer progeny Teddy Thompson (son of Richard) among them.

Curiously, Martha has affected some weird Betty Boop thing tonight; with her toes pointed inwards and her head lolling from side to side, she comes off like some broken baby doll. It’s a wonderful thing to watch. Meanwhile, Rufus’s voice has clearly improved. Sitting taut like a power cable suspended high over the open ended architecture of his newest compositions, his honeyed, nasal croon has never sounded more assured.

The songs themselves are generally glorious. With its circular melody and rousing, boomy finish, opener ‘Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk’ is vintage Wainwright; the revamped ‘Greek Song’ benefits from its newly evocative arrangements; the stunning ‘Grey Gardens’ takes a slippery piano riff and vivisects it with some spine-tingling, dissonant backing melodies. But the real standout tonight is lead single ‘California’, a sun-drenched, top-down, pop corker that instantly ranks among Wainwright’s shiniest, happiest tunes.

By the time the night is over, Wainwright will have performed the whole of ‘Poses’ as well as some of the more durable tracks from his lauded debut. With a few minor quibbles aside (namely, the cod-jazz rumblings of the questionable ‘Shadows’ and the solid but unremarkable ‘The Tower Of Learning’), it all amounts to stirring proof that he’s got another gem on his hands.

Mark Pytlik