Consummate showman Rufus Wainwright dazzles in the brilliant ‘Milwaukee at Last!!!’
By Steven Foster
If you ever want to cause a stir at a cocktail party, just bring up Rufus Wainwright. Some will declare his dynastic genius practically immortal. Others will angrily cast him off as a showy, nasal one-note who needs an editor. This DVD could move the latter into the camp of the former. Still wildly enamored with his own ouvre, Wainwright nonetheless can be forgiven, especially in today’s E!gocentric culture that anoints fame on anyone with famous parents and a fat ass. Wainwright has famous parents and a bony ass, but he has the bullshit to back up his indulgences, something the Kardashians, Jenners, and Lamases are painfully lacking. As his previous sex and drug addictions, and his painful opera, Prima Donna, attest, Wainwright’s creative muse can quickly morph into a possessive demon that can get the best of him. But when he selectively raids his own crammed closet of influences and artistry, he can assemble a breathtaking show. It’s not everyone who can decide to—and successfully pull off—an exact clone of Judy Garland’s most famous concert, right down to the iconic poster art.
Milwaukee at Last!!! (Decca) is a 10-track CD and a 23-song DVD recorded from his sold-out show at the Pabst Theatre in Wisconsin, of all places. And though the CD is fine, the DVD is a stunner. Obligatory backstage footage (cute boyfriend, fizzy band banter) aside, the concert itself is pure, exuberant showmanship that’s this close to epic. As usual, the voice is crystalline, and Wainwright uses his gifted vocal instrument to hit all the right notes, ascending to heartbreaking heights as if he was loping his way up a Mount Everest of emotion. But his humor and surprising humility keep the angel grounded among mortals. I saw Wainwright 10 years ago at the long-gone Instant Karma, a venue as small as your parents’ rec room, when he was but a blip on the culture musical radar. He’s Carnegie Hall huge now, but this DVD somehow manages to capture the intimacy and awe-inspiring performance magic of a smaller setting, and is a fine example of a daring, thrillingly theatrical entertainer capable of mad genius. Wainwright can be polarizing, to be sure. But his talent is always worthy of passionate discussion. And he probably wouldn’t have it any other way.