Rufus Wainwright performs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Thursday night. (Photo: Andrew Hampp)
Rufus Wainwright kicked off his U.S. tour Wednesday at New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music, celebrating the release of his seventh studio album Out Of The Game with a new band and a funked-up, rock-centric take on his 14-year catalog. Kicking off the nearly two-hour set with a subdued, lights-out performance of Out of the Game closing track "Candles" (a tribute to his late mother Kate McGarrigle, who passed away in January 2010), Wainwright and his eight-piece band immediately segued into "Rashida," a sweeping if snarky ode to "Parks & Recreation" star Rashida Jones.
Wainwright felt at home in many ways Wednesday night. Not only has he called New York his home for the bulk of his professional career (he was born in Rhinebeck, N.Y. to McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III but raised in Montreal), but BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House also hosted Wainwright's opera "Prima Donna" for a week's worth of performances this February. He next heads West for a trio of California shows and appearances on "Conan" and "The Ellen Degeneres Show" beginning May 11, before returning to New York later in the week to tape an episode of "Live From The Artist's Den." The largely amphitheater-based U.S. tour will continue throughout the summer, with additional dates expected to be added in the fall.
"Prima Donna" was one of several projects keeping Wainwright from doing a proper tour in the years since he hit the road in support of Release The Stars in 2008 - the death of his mother inspired 2010's somber, piano-based All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, and a May 2011 tribute concert that was recently turned into a documentary, "Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert For Kate McGorrigle," that recently prepared at Sundance London. Of the latter, Wainwright thanked Billboard's sister publication The Hollywood Reporter  for their positive review of the film, which features appearances by Jimmy Fallon, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Antony Hegarty and Teddy Thompson (who opened for Wainwright and played in his band throughout the night.)
With the Mark Ronson-produced Out Of The Game billed as his most accessible work to date, Perry Greenfield, Wainwright's New York-based manager at Red Light, expects the record to have legs well into 2013. "He's starting to get played on stations that haven't played him in years. Of course the FUVs [New York] and the XPNs [University of Pennsylvania] love him, but he's also a top 15 record in Minneapolis," Greenfield says of the lead single, Out Of The Game's title track. Wainwright is also netting some of his most high-profile TV press, from recent couch time on "The Graham Norton Show" in the U.K. (his biggest market) to a piece airing this weekend on "CBS Sunday Morning."
Decked in shiny gold pants, a black blazer and brown Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, Wainwright himself was in great spirits Thursday night. "Everyone says, 'Rufus is gonna make this pop record.' But I feel like I've always been pop, the world's just been bland!" he told the crowd. To complement the album's upbeat tracks like "Welcome To The Ball" and "Bitter Tears," Wainwright pulled some of his poppiest tracks out for the BAM setlist, from "Poses" and "Greek Song" from 2001's "Poses" to "The One You Love" from 2005's Want Two and even "April Fools," his first single from 1998's Rufus Wainwright that has showed up in few Wainwright concerts over the past decade. Singers Teddy Thompson, Krystle Warren and his sister Martha Wainwright also took the stage at various points to reprise their Kate McGarrigle tributes from the documentary - "Saratoga Summer Song," "I Don't Know" and "Tell My Sister," respectively.