Review: Wainwright revels in musical confliction

Rufus Wainwright wasted no time bonding with his Liberty Hall audience Monday night.

"So, I'm back," he said. "Have you missed me?"

The ensuing roar, punctuated by lustful screams of misled teenage girls, seemed a definitive "yes."

Wainwright gifted the masses with a knowing grin in response.

"Me, too."

Such is the life of a wanton balladeer with a penchant for rocking out.

But such a characterization of Wainwright might just be a bit too tidy. After all, this is a complicated guy. With quasi-matinee idol looks and a crush on all things obscure, Wainwright swims in a sea of funky juxtapositions. And his music reflects the beautiful struggle to stay afloat.

The man obviously loves a soaring goth anthem -- his two-hour set, featuring songs from both 2001's "Poses" and 2003's "Want One," is chock-full of them. Yet the Canadian crooner seems just as content to curl up alone on his piano bench, with only a simple melody to keep him warm. And most often, Wainwright's music falls somewhere in the middle, alternating between charming gypsy shuffles and near-country charts delivered in his trademark nasal whine.

Call it musical schizophrenia or a reluctance to commit. Whatever it is, it works. And Wainwright knows it.

The concert was an admittedly energetic affair, with the singer/songwriter hopping between the piano and his guitar at an impressive pace. Let it never be said the man doesn't like to keep things moving. Highlights of the eclectic set included the ballad "Natasha," ("the only song I've ever written about someone besides myself," he admitted), a cover of the forever lovely Leonard Cohen tune "Hallelujah," (though Wainwright comically struggled to remember the words) and "Vibrate," a tongue-in-cheek ode to modern love.

"Rufus, you rock," a breathless female fan yelled out.

"Yes, yes I do," Wainwright replied. "I rock."

And so it was that two hours and two encores later, Wainwright schlepped off the stage in his glitter-encrusted sandals, a black cape trailing behind him.

The house lights came up; a collective sigh rose from the audience.

"That was really amazing," one fan turned and said to her friend. "But really, I feel completely confused."

Score one for Rufus, the master of musical confliction.

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