While the sound of A Fine Frenzy frontwoman Alison Sudol’s dipping vocals and romping piano lines were a pleasant treat as I raced past Bashir’s Taverna towards the white gates at the Pavilion, I was concerned that I was a bit late. When I caught sight of a waifish redhead dressed in black beneath the enormous, mock-American flag backdrop, my heart briefly sank.
Rufus Wainwright showed the Pavilion crowd how to combine substance and flamboyant style.
To be honest, I was at the Pavilion for Neko Case (the other waifish redhead of the evening), so I was a bit concerned when I saw this Case doppelganger wrap up her set just past start time. Besides their admirable vocal tones and ranges, nothing about the pairing of Case and headliner Rufus Wainwright screams "package tour"—she belts siren songs and Southern gothic ballads with country swagger in Motown song structures; he layers Las Vegas charisma, Liza Minnelli va-voom and Morrissey’s dry humor on top of lush orchestral pop. In full disclosure, your reviewer is a little bit country.
Opening with "Things That Scare Me" from her reverb-drenched album, Blacklisted, Neko Case’s set seemed to drip with sweat and heat. Case—dressed in the big-brother’s-t-shirt of black dresses, which she called her "tank top-looking pregnancy dress"—led her five-piece band through shimmering mirages of pop and country, including a drum-pounding rendition of "The Tigers Have Spoken."
Case stayed mum for most of the night, while back-up singer Kelly Hogan—a voluptuous, red-skirted Georgian with a surprisingly delicate voice—rang her chimes on fan favorite "Hold On, Hold On," and remarked to Case that "some dudes [in the crowd] offered to have your babies… See us after class."
While Case’s huge voice may’ve won her a few fans, Wainwright‘s mix of the operatic with the theatrical (costumes ranged from seersucker suit with glittery god-knows-what to Austrian mountain man to Judy Garland in Summer Stock, complete with boxy tuxedo jacket, fedora and stockings) surely earned him new throngs. Fronting a band that resembled what Barnum and Bailey clowns might look like while intoxicated (notably the french horn and trumpet players, who dappled each song with gorgeously muted harmonies), Wainwright piled showmanship higher than his well-kept black coiffure.
Wainwright ran through the majority of his new record, Release the Stars, perhaps miffing fans of old mainstays like "(My Phone’s On) Vibrate" but hitting otherworldly vocal peaks on new songs like "Rules and Regulations" and "Tulsa," the latter a song about Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, whose face, gushed Rufus, "has the Marlon Brando Club calling."
After hitting a few live staples—"Between My Legs" and the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah," during which his sister Lucy sat motionless—Wainwright stripped from a white bathrobe into his Garland ensemble and gave a two-thirds-full Pavilion the ol’ razzle dazzle. Whether you came for him or not, Rufus certainly brought quite a ruckus.