What would disappoint an avid NYC high-culture music buff more: that we’ve only been to Carnegie Hall twice in the past year? Or that both times were to see Rufus Wainwright? Well it’s true, we don’t get down to Ravel and Puccini, but Rufus’s Carnegie appearances are fast becoming Stereogum traditions.
Last time it was for the “gayest night ever,” as Rufus called it, when Wainwright tackled Judy Garland’s classic 1961 concert from the very same venue. It was fabulous and trying, highlighting both Ruf’s hammy, hilarious stage banter, and the limitations of his otherwise-amazing voice. On Wednesday, we went to usher in the holiday with the Wainwright clan and some acquaintances: Rufus brought sister Martha, auntie Sloan, and mom Katie McGarrigle, along with Teddy and Kamila Thompson (kids of Brit songwriter Richard Thompson), Laurie Anderson, Jimmy Fallon, Antony Hegarty, and Lou Fucking Reed. The entire crew, lined from left to right and singing carols for the encore, was incredibly surreal and entirely awesome.
(Pics via NYT)
The night was a mixed bag of the performers’ original holiday songs and time-honored tunes, both weighty and humorous. After solo turns from Rufus and Martha, Jimmy Fallon came out with an acoustic, addressing the audience’s mix of skepticism and amusement at his turn at the mic: “I know what you’re all thinking. Finally, a talented singer.” His solo tune wasn’t half bad, but it had nothing on his moment with Martha, duetting on Bing Crosby’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” We knew he could sorta sing, but not like that! Nailed it, with laughs ta boot. (Watch it here and here.) And we thought of you kids when Kamila Thompson turned in a heart-wrenching take on Wham!’s “Last Christmas” (it really is a standard!) — but the highlights of the night came from Rufus, Antony, and Lou.
First, Wainwright. As we know, he’s a sucker for covers. And while we love his unmistakable voice on most everything, he doesn’t always pick the right song for his timbre (see: the Judy Garland show). Not so at Carnegie, where his soul-stirring “Minuit Chrétiens” (“O Holy Night,” sung in French), was one of a few goosebump moments on the night. If you wanna be considered one of the “voices of this generation,” Roof, put that shit on record ASAP. Check this vid, if only for the audio. (Thanks, Evan!)
Like it? Cherish it forever more. (Merci, Josh!)
Later it was Antony, who truly did channel Elvis (as Rufus advertised) on his flighty, fluttery “Blue Christmas,” stunning us again later on “Snowy Angel,” a song originally written by ’90s East Village street performer Baby D. But we reserve our highest edict of Gumworthyness for Mr. Lou Reed who, on a night devoted to those with angelic, versatile, virtuoso voices, still stole the show. He began on a “White Christmas” duet with Rufus, both playing up their performances as self-lampooning caricatures; Wainwright delivered his corny, falsetto stylings on the intro with jazz hands and sheepish glances at Lou, while Reed smoldered and was too cool to do more than sing-speak his lines with big pauses and a no-nonsense expression. (Watch it here.) But next was “Silent Night,” and it’s the closest we’re ever coming to seeing Velvet Underground live. Lou burned, with the cast of friends behind adding background vocals where needed, transforming the Christmas staple into a Lou Reed-ism of the finest variety. Unforgettable? You bet your sweet-ass Scepter sessions acetate it was.
Concession time. We’re not sure the performers met more than once, or for longer than two hours, before the show; Rufus was running around like a headless chicken, barely able to direct himself, let alone the sprawling cast of luminaries he’d assembled; the evening likely had more dead air than most any Carnegie has seen, and the stage felt empty and under-utilized. But if anyone has enough charm and self-deprecating levity to bring his audience in on the joke of it all, it’s Rufus. Yes, it was more of a dress-rehearsal for a grander show that never came than it was self-contained, professional production ? but the star power, the classic performances, and the sincere holiday spirit involved made us want to do nothing more than sip nog and belt carols all night.
Rufus has the coolest friends! Next time he brings ‘em to Carnegie, don’t miss it.