The College isn’t the only place students go to shows, and taking a Friday away from campus to see Rufus Wainwright at the University of Pennsylvania was well worth the 45-minute long, semi-harrowing drive into Philadelphia.
First entering Irvine Auditorium, where Wainwright was playing on Oct. 6, we were struck with the amount of people in the audience. Having arrived 10 minutes late, we were relegated to the balcony, though the noise and number of people was still impressive.
After a good opening set by singer/songwriter Jill Stevenson, who said the UPenn audience was the largest she’d ever played for, Rufus stepped from backstage and took a seat at his piano. Almost immediately he launched into “Grey Gardens,” a track from his second album, “Poses.”
His voice didn’t boom, but it didn’t have to. As soon as he started singing, the crowd seemed to disappear, silent during each lyrical creation. Even after he finished each piece, whether he played on the guitar or on the piano, the crowd was momentarily speechless before breaking out into applause and cheers.
Switching between two acoustic guitars and the piano, Wainwright had a UPenn student on stage between nearly every song to help him change instruments.
A very well thought-out set list seemed to play a role, with no technical difficulties or snafus during the entire show.
Throughout the concert, he played familiar songs from past records, including songs like “Poses,” “The Art Teacher” and “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.”
In addition, he played songs featured in movie soundtracks, such as “Hallelujah” from “Shrek.”
Those old favorites were accompanied by one new song, a track that Wainwright announced would be on his new album. The song, “Sanssouci,” is French for “no worries.” Wainwright said he named the song after the castle of former Prussian king Frederick the Great. During his summers there, Frederick allowed only men into the castle, which is located in Germany. There were no locks on the doors and “nobody slept alone,” Wainwright said.
Wainwright didn’t just entertain the sold-out auditorium with songs, but also cracked jokes and relayed stories about spending a month with his mother and his recent vacation in Europe.
Wainwright even made a passing comment about Camden, whose name he couldn’t remember, except to note that it was a very scary place to ride through from his home in New York City.
At one point, he compared his own intentionally exaggerated head movements to that of a Muppet.
He delighted us, and the rest of the audience, with a longer set featuring songs from all four of his albums, refreshing compared to many other artists who stick to their most recent releases.
After a standing ovation, Wainwright came back for a three-song encore. Though obviously planned, an encore is always a welcome addition, or at least it is when the artist is worth listening to. Luckily, he is very much worth it.
Not only did he offer a sample of tracks from all his CDs, but Wainwright’s voice, amazing and distinctive on a studio album, is even more impressive in person. He sounded exactly like he does recorded, a feat that is very rare and added another level to an already wonderful show.
Wainwright even used his last song (pre-encore) to put a humorous spin on an already infamous event. He dedicated “Gay Messiah” to Mark Foley, former Republican congressman from Florida, who has been in the news recently for allegedly sending explicit e-mails to congressional pages.