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ISSUE 118 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/15/2004

Lonely rebel prince seeks army

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor

Friday, October 15, 2004

Rufus Wainwright's Sunday night concert started as any good concert should -- with a shout out to St. Olaf College. As opening act Dan Dyer (who performed at St. Olaf on Monday as part of the Rock the Vote tour) took the stage for his acoustic guitar set, he told the audience, "I'm in town to play at a cool college an hour south of here tomorrow, I think it's called St. Olaf, you guys should check it out."

Unfortunately, Dyer went on to play a 30 minute set that was significantly less impressive then his opening statement about St. Olaf. Suffering under the handicap of performing songs from his debut album, Of What Lies Beneath, with only two acoustic guitars, his performance lacked confidence and energy.

During the performance, Dyer, a strong, if predictable vocalist, kept looking behind him and to the side of the stage, as if he was asking himself where his bass player and drummer were. Dyer's sound came in the same forced heart-felt and confessional vein of the new breed of male singer-songwriters who feel they need to be equal parts blue-eyed soul and an amped-up Jackson Browne.

Some songs, like Red Alert had potential to rock if they had been backed up properly. But Dyer's songs (produced by Lenny Kravitz) were not the right opening act for the theatrical pop of Rufus Wainwright.

Wainwright's stop in Minneapolis was part of his small Midwestern tour preparing for the release of his new album, Want Two (Nov. 16). This is the first tour Wainwright has performed without a full band, and the pop singer switched from playing piano to acoustic guitar during the almost two-hour solo set at Minneapolis' Pantages Theater.

With its crystal chandeliers, Greek name and roots in the Minneapolis Vaudeville scene, the Pantages Theater was the perfect venue for the ever eccentric and dramatic Wainwright. Taking the stage in orange and black striped pants and floppy hair perfect for tossing, Wainwright sat at his piano as the overture from The Wizard of Oz filled the theater.

To the crowd, Wainwright could do no wrong. As the performer dramatically confessed into the microphone, "I am a ruined man," the crowd cheered as if they were welcoming their personal hero home. Wainwright lived in Minneapolis briefly during the mid-1990s, and it was evident that he still has a soft spot for the city.

The crowd came to life as Wainwright followed a new opening song with the much loved Pretty Things. Like many of the songs performed on Sunday, Pretty Things came from Want One, the album Wainwright released last year after completing a stint in Minnesota's Hazelden rehab center for alcoholism.

Often alternating new songs with crowd favorites, Wainwright left the piano after a rousing Grey Gardens from his sophomore album Poses.

The performance of Grey Gardens highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of a Rufus Wainwright concert performed alone. His voice is so clear and potent, it prevents any of his songs from ever sounding bad. Because of the strength of Wainwright's singing coupled with his often charismatic and hilarious asides, the listener often forgot Sunday night how much fuller the sound would have been if Wainwright had a proper band playing with him. Wainwright's vocal stylings are so stable that he could never be overpowered; a full band would have complemented and enhanced the rich sounds of Wainwright's clever and competent song-writing skills.

New songs, like Memphis Skyline, about singer Jeff Buckley's death, show the promising signs of another satisfying Wainwright album.

Although the singer humorously lamented to the crowd that his type of music doesn't get played on the radio, the singer does have a sturdy fan base who will eagerly and unconditionally take any of the pop offerings the artist gives them. The songs Wainwright performed on the guitar lacked the tight and polished sound that defines Wainwright's brand of cabaret-pop. California and Rebel Prince were among the songs that felt incomplete on guitar only. Only the sad and truthful lyrics of Wainwright's song Want sounded perfect when played acoustically.

To finish the concert, Wainwright returned to the piano and played his best songs of the night, including Vibrate (featuring a smart reference to Britney Spears) and Wainwright's chilling cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

The crowd enjoyed a mistake-laden but fun Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk for the encore, and then an excellently executed Poses as the last song of the night. Before he finished, Wainwright dead-panned to the crowd, Yippee, now I get to go to Milwaukee.

Rufus Wainwright may be a funny guy, and a performer with an outstanding voice, but for his music to be appreciated to the fullest, a backing band is necessary.

As Wainwright left the stage he was praised with cheers of, We love you Rufus, come back again! But next time, come back with a band.

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