LIVE REVIEW: Rufus Wainwright in Groton, MA (05.23.24)

Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest Linkedin Reddit
LIVE REVIEW: Rufus Wainwright in Groton, MA (05.23.24)

Singer-songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright brought his tour to Groton Hill Music Center in Groton, Mass. on Thursday. Walking onstage and waving to the audience, Wainwright sat at the piano and opened the night with the wistful “Grey Garden.” He proceeded to captivate the nearly full house for his ninety minute performance.

“Where the heck am I?,” Wainwright said. As he was driving out here, he thought he’d never been to Groton before and as he kept driving and got closer to the venue he knew for sure he hadn’t been. I think a lot of audience members could relate. Being a relatively new venue, Groton Hill attracts many first time concert-goers at every show. During the show introduction, the audience was asked to raise hands if it was their first time at Groton Hill. More than half the audience raised their hands.

“When I saw the venue, I thought it was such an incredible place,” Wainwright stated. Performers love the acoustics in this venue. It’s also the perfect place for vocalists and talented musicians to showcase their capabilities. It’s just them, their instruments and the stage. There’s simple lighting and little fanfare.

Wainwright’s grand, powerful vocals filled the room. His emotional, dramatic songs tell stories. A classic crooner, his vocals range from deep and somewhat mumbly to soft and gentle to high and expansive to loud and powerful. Dressed casually on this warm May evening in a floral print shirt, jeans and sandals, Wainwright remained comfortable and confident onstage. The Canadian-American is the full package—singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, composer. He easily switched between piano and guitar throughout his set.

A busy creative with lots of recent and upcoming projects, Wainwright discussed a few including his 11th studio album Folkocracy (2023) “which didn’t win a Grammy” (Wainwright has been nominated for Grammy awards but has never won) and a musical in London called Opening Night which he says was deemed “too weird for London” and had a short run. He recorded an album of Kurt Vile songs with Pacific Jazz Orchestra. In two weeks he’s going to Paris to perform his dream requiem full piece. It’ll be narrated by Meryl Streep. Wainwright performed a beautiful song from this with the lyrics “the world is broken/ but my heart is open.”

I particularly loved the melancholy “Vibrate” —”my phone’s on vibrate for you”) and the rhythmic, relatively upbeat “Out of the Game.” His crooning style shined on the contemplative song “Peaceful Afternoon.” He described “Gay Messiah” as “a little blue, a little risqué.” He said that much like today, there were young people in the audience when he played the song at a recent show. There was a 12 year-old girl in the front row. He was proud of himself that he’d changed the lyrics. Later that night, that 12 year-old girl came up to him and she was actually a 30 year-old lesbian. One of the lines he changed to “baptized in gummy bears.”

“Old Song” was influenced by the “dark and socially conscious music of Berlin in the 20s.” Another highlight was the brooding and soaring “Early Morning Madness.” He performed a moving, eloquent cover of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” which he introduced by saying: “now I’m going to cheer you all up with a tearful Leonard Cohen song.” For his triumphant encore, Wainwright performed a weary, winding “Going to a Town” and a majestic, gorgeous “Hallelujah.”

When he messed up a song, Wainwright admitted that he was intimated by the “amazing” piano. “It’s a little scary to play,” he confessed. A former Groton Hill Board member was sitting a couple rows behind me and as we were walking out I heard her say she was surprised when he said this. I asked her about the piano. She told me it’s a $200K Steinway.

The nine foot Steinway D concert piano was chosen for Groton Hill by renowned concert pianist Misha Dichter. He went down to the Steinway factory in Astoria, New York along with Vista Philharmonic Orchestra artistic director and conductor Bruce Hangen to choose one. It was donated by the family of a late adult student, Matt Fichtenbaum. Matt (1945-2022) was a violin student at Groton Hill Music School.

Featured image by Miranda Penn Turin

About Author