For those who find most contemporary music to be little more than a cacophony of aural sacrilege, you'll be glad to know that there is still a young crooner who can woo the pants off punk rockers and professionals alike. With a 24-karat voice, a velvet rapport with the piano and a thoroughbred musical pedigree, young Rufus Wainwright is a once-in-a-generation songwriter you won't want to miss when he and his band take the stage at 32 Bleu this week.
Born to folkies Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle in 1973, Wainwright was steeped in the music business as he grew up in Montreal. By 14, Wainwright was touring steadily with his mother's band, The McGarrigle Sisters and Family, and already had begun to compose music of his own, including a song for a TV movie that earned him a nomination for several major Canadian awards.
By the time he began touring on the North American club circuit, Wainwright's apple had fallen a lot farther from the familial folk tree than anyone could've expected. A fan of everything from Italian opera to Cole Porter, Randy Newman and The Beach Boys, Wainwright was reinventing pop standards with classical arrangements, literary lyrics and an openly gay sensibility.
With the release of his eponymous debut album in 1998, critics quickly crowned the then 25-year-old Rufus the new prince of pop songwriters, sitting him at the table with the likes of Carole King, Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, Newman and Porter.
When his second album, Poses, was released in 2001, Wainwright had already gained an international following, but his somewhat anachronistic songwriting style and his open homosexuality kept the critically acclaimed songwriter just left of center stage in a conservative music industry unsure of how to market him.
But now with the release of his third album, Want One (the first of two CDs -- Want Two is scheduled to be released later this spring) in 2003, the times seem to have caught up with Wainwright's unassuming openness, vulnerable song styling and undeniable talent. As politicians and activists wage a battle royale over the issue of gay marriage, society has already leapt ahead to an unprecedented level of acceptance of gay culture with TV shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Ellen Degeneres Show, Queer as Folk and Will and Grace, making the issue of an entertainer's sexual orientation nearly moot. As Wainwright sings on "Oh What a World," the opening track of his new album, "Men reading fashion magazines/ Oh what a world it seems we live in/ Straight men, oh what a world we live in."
Aside from pointing out the all-too-ironic fact that gay culture has now been fashionably appropriated by "metrosexuals" worldwide, Wainwright's songs aren't as much concerned with sexual politics as they are with issues of love, death, addiction, recovery, wonderment, friendship -- being alive.
Above it all is the music. Like Faberge eggs, Wainwright's songs are treasures of exquisitely precious artistry.
-- Noel Black
32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.
Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 7:30 p.m.)
$18 in advance, $20 day of show