MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND – Novices and loyal subjects alike were treated on 5 July at the Montreux Jazz Festival (MJF) to an audience with the king of ersatz funk, Rufus Wainwright.
I have been an armchair admirer of Wainwright’s genre and gender bending musical genius since I first heard “My Phone’s on Vibrate for You.”
Wainwright’s gift is his uncanny, or inherited ability – he is the son of Kate McGarrigle and Louden Wainwright III – to transform the mundane into soulful, sometimes sad, silly and occasionally sappy stories that resonate deep in your bones. Think Elton John meets Leonard Cohen (also the grandfather of Wainwright’s baby daughter).
Under Wainwright’s charismatic charm, I found myself singing along with the rest of Miles Davis Hall to such quirky choruses as “The church has run out of candles.”
Wainwright’s kitsch is all the more delicious because it is steeped in serious musical talent and diverse influences – the fact that he is gay as a $3 bill and shouting about it only adds to the rich mix.
Wainwright’s band is formidable, with powerful backing vocals, seductive percussion and sweet if subdued guitar riffs – at one point I noticed what a friend described as a “Congolese” guitar melody carrying one of the songs.
The presence of another family music legacy, Teddy Thompson, in the Wainwright line-up made for what my scribbled notes describe as a “soul detonation,” as when the two sang Louden Wainwright’s “I’m a One Man Guy,” with the fabulous Charysse Blackman.
The coup de grâce was a rousing chanson encore by Wainwright on piano, with the crowd carrying the song.
For me, the difference between a “good” show and a “musical experience” is written on performers’ faces; by the second encore – Leonard Cohen’s bitter sweet “Hallelujah” – Wainwright looked like he was going to levitate off of the stage…and take us along with him.
See my other MJF reviews on GenevaLunch.