Toward the end of Rufus Wainwright’s glittery performance – outfit and music included – a large swath of the crowd could no longer contain itself, rushing toward the stage as Wainwright sang a characteristically heartbreaking song about a young girl in love with her art teacher.
“Oh, you’ve come a bit closer,” he says flirtatiously to the audience at the lush outdoor amphitheater at Ronit Farms on the humid Sunday night.
“That’s nice. Who’s lonely?”
The American-Canadian Wainwright, 38, who last played in Israel in 2008, exudes 1970s pop and charisma on stage, channeling Elton John as he furiously plays the piano, shakes out his long, wavy hair, and belts ballads and new catchy tunes from his seventh album Out of the Game, released in April and produced by British musician Mark Ronson.
Donning a flashy denim suit, sunglasses and silver boots that shone brighter than the moon, Wainwright opened in dramatic darkness on guitar with “Candles” from his new album, joined by an eight-piece band, including singer-guitarist Teddy Thompson and doo-wop-style backup singers. The show felt like a true ensemble performance, with the saxophone-player, clarinetist, drummer and backup singers all taking solos.
Known for his operatic and Baroque folk-style singing (he even showed his first opera, Prima Dona, in the US in February) and classical piano, critics say his latest release is his poppiest album to date, with danceable songs like “Out of the Game” and “Jericho.”
“Let’s dance a little bit,” he says, putting on his sunglasses and transitioning to the keyboard-driven, party sound of “Bitter Tears.” With tambourine in hand, he got the crowd on its feet.
Wainwright also played older favorites like “ Going to a town” from 2007’s Release the Stars, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” from his 2001 album Poses and “April Fools” – which he calls “one of my greatest possible hits”– from his 1998 self-titled debut album.
Singing “Oh, Jerusalem, Oh, Jerusalem,” he paid tribute to The Band’s Levon Helm, who died in April, with 2004’s “The One You Love,” which Helm had drummed on. At the mention of Helm, the crowd unfortunately seemed mostly silent.
He also honored his folk-singing parents, Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarringle, singing a stunning version of “On my way to Town” by his mother and “One Man Guy” by his father.
Feeling inspiration from divas Whitney Houston and Donna Summer, Wainwright crooned a sweet “Song of You,” a melody he says he sings to his fiance, German-born arts administrator Jorn Weisbrodt. Introducing the song, he took the opportunity to declare that Israel should allow gay marriage, to wild applause from the audience.
Later, he continued with the family theme.
“It’s interesting to be here because I have a Jewish daughter,” he says charmingly, referring to his daughter Viva Wainwright Cohen, born to Leonard Cohen’s daughter Lorca Cohen last year.
“I heard the Cohens are pretty high up there so I better behave,” he said.
Weinwright sang a lovely version of “Montauk,” a song about “your dad and your other dad,” to Viva.
After two encores, Wainwright endearingly jogged off stage. The time had come for the flashy rockstar to hang up his sparkling boots.