NYCD: The Blog

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sal Checks Out Rufus Wainwright's Homage To Judy Garland

I have never been a fan of Judy Garland. I love the songs she sang. I love the people she sang with. And the people she sang with loved her. But I am not one of the people who consider Judy At Carnegie Hall a landmark recording. As a matter of fact, she kinda scared me as a kid. Seeing her on TV, wearing too much make-up, looking 20 years older than she was, singing with that quavering voice and pre-Joe Cocker spasmodics, Garland would always get in my way, while I waited patiently for Flip Wilson's set on Hollywood Palace.

On the other hand, I think Rufus Wainwright is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation. And I know many people who feel about Rufus the way I feel about Judy. Some I know can barely tolerate him at all. I understand this. His voice, at its best, is an emotional powerhouse. At worst, it can be compared to Penny Marshall after two sips of orange juice.

This week, the openly (and I use that term loosely) gay Wainwright is recreating Judy Garland's historic performance at Carnegie Hall, from April of 1961. Once the news of these planned performances hit the airwaves some months back, you could hear the collective "Oh Jeez!" resounding across the tri-state area. "What the hell is Rufus doing?" Some people actually thought this was going to be some drag-fest at La Mama. "You're really going to this?" I was asked by too many people. To me, it was a no-brainer. I love Rufus. I love standards. How can you go wrong?

Backed by a 40 piece orchestra and a small combo that featured Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Rufus had, in his own words, "the single gayest moment of his life." And I am happy to say, I was there to share that with him, along with one of the most enthusiatic and star-studded Carnegie crowds I have ever seen. David Bowie and David Byrne, not to mention me and my wife, all knew this was going to be an event to be savored.

In great spirits for the 2 1/2 hour concert, Rufus did everything right. Joked when appropriate. Stayed true to the material. And tore the house down with his inspired versions of "The Man That Got Away," "How Long Has This Been Goin' On," "Zing Went The Strings of My Heart," and my fave moment, "Do It Again," which Wainwright explained was "one of the only songs tonight being done in the original key." It was mesmerizing.

Donning a top hat and tails for the start of Act 2, Rufus came flying out to "That's Entertainment," and never looked back. "A Foggy Day," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," and of course "The Trolley Song," to which Rufus exclaimed "HERE WE GO!" The crowd roared! Rufus was 100 feet off the ground.

A few surprises throughout the evening: Wainwright's mother, the great folkie Kate McGarrigle, accompanied him on piano during "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." Garland's "other" daughter, Lorna Luft, came out for a damn good "After You've Gone." And one of the most intense moments of the night was Rufus' sister, Martha Wainwright, tearing the house down with a jawdropping solo version of "Stormy Weather."

To the skeptics, being at this show did not make me "turn gay." Being at this show m
. ade me realize two things: they don't write songs like they used to and Rufus Wainwright made one of the greatest decisions of his life when he chose to perform this amazing material.


Blogger Michael in New York said...

I thought you already were gay. Instead of thinking of this as Rufus doing Judy, it is as you said Rufus tackling the standards -- he's done a number of standards for one-off projects and done them terrifically, but this is his first serious full-on assault and it sounds like a winner. I'm just sorry I didn't fork over the $100 or whatever to see it.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Michael in New York said...

By the way, just read Stephen Holden's annoying review which made lots of gay references but barely touched on the show itself -- treating Rufus like a silly gay boy and the show as just a stunt. Very annoying.

9:24 AM  
Blogger NYCD Online said...

No, that's Tony.

9:44 AM  

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