04 April - Willie Nelson and Family ( + Mary Gauthier), Shepherds Bush Empire
16 April - Rufus Wainwright, Shepherds Bush Empire
21 November - Bob Dylan, Brixton Academy
29 November - Rufus Wainwright, Hammersmith Apollo
Rufus, Islington. Having stupidly missed an earlier gig, I grabbed the chance to see this 'one-off' spot, billed as a special preview of 'Want Two'.
First, the venue - supposedly purpose-built for live music - hah! Take a large-ish shopping mall 'Superdrug', rip out the fixtures, put in a bar and stage - you get the idea.
Second, the Rules of Standing. Tall units - no problem anywhere. Average height units - get there well before the doors open and head straight for the front of stage area. Smaller units - (apart from "forget it") as before x 10, head straight for the front, do not pass Go, do not stop at the bar ...
Third, the act. Fighting jet-lag and a cold, Rufus's pared-down set was spoiled for me by the poor sound quality and by the fact that I could hardly see a thing (refer to 2 above). Luckily, there was Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith still to come.
Willie Nelson/Mary Gauthier. When you least expect it, along comes something new and rather wonderful.
Went along to pay my respects to Willie Nelson. Not a die-hard fan, but we were both in London, so what the hell. Support act was 'Mary who?' so, seat taken, a trip to the bar was called for. Then the tour guy announced "some racoon-assed country singer". We don't get than many racoon-asses in London, so was intrigued. The singer in question held the audience's attention from the first note, through the Dylan-esque lyrics to the droll, wry stories of a hard life. Was this a joke? Did the Country folks in Nashville realise they had a gay singer on their hands, singing of the ladies she had loved and lost, just like WN? She knew, we all knew, no-one cared and it was grreat. More, please.
Willie Nelson then showed London how to play a mean gee-tar, moving through dozens of songs in a seamless medley of more Country classics than you realized you knew and only stopping to rest to let his amazing sister show us what she could do on the piano. The Family played a blinder and WN was generous enough to let Mary Gauthier join in with the final songs of the set. We all went home talkin' Texan.
Shepherds Bush Empire. Tatty - yes. Smelly - yes. Good atmosphere - yes. Proper acoustics and sight-lines - yes. Pulling it down for "redevelopment" - yes. Really. I know, I know.
Rufus, Shepherds Bush. Whatever. Rufus with full band, horn section and backing singers (Martha Wainwright no less) put on a really good show. This is pop, pop-opera, pantomime, music-hall and a whole lotta fun. The highlight was 'Oh What a World' where his Rufusness stripped off (slowly) to reveal a rather fetching g-stringed fairy costume with wings and sparkly glow stick wand - to the screaming delight of the front row. (You had to be there ...) The audience didn't want to go home .."I'm so naughty" he drawled wickedly before his third encore. Craazy.
Bob Dylan, Brixton Academy. And now the Rules of Dylan:
- Bob plays where he pleases, be in Cardiff or London.
- Expect set rotation - no promises.
- "Those that are first shall be last ..." The die-hards who queue all day to be 'front standing' do not necessarily get plum spots each time. This was a five-day residency and sometime the chosen ones were let in from the back of the queue.
- Go to the Bob Links section on http://www.expectingrain.com/ for the complete reviews (and show some respect while you're there, please).
- Expect a body-search at Brixton.
- Balcony seats at Brixton are rather good.
Music is meant for places like this. Much better atmosphere = much better gig. Appreciative audience and a bit of Cool Dude interaction – he played a snatch of ‘London Calling’ in honour of the Clash-man who was in that night. Much cheering, so he sang the entire song the following night. The Main Man on keyboards and harmonica throughout – seemed pleased with the evening, though.
Rufus Wainwright, Hammersmith Apollo – early panto.
Warning – this one’s a gusher, so look away now if you’re not a fan.
To Hammersmith for an early Christmas treat – front row seats, too. [The Gods must have been smiling on my booking – rant about internet tickets to come later.] Let’s get the downer over with – already a controversial song, ‘Gay Messiah’ was sung with Rufus/Jesus being crucified. Tacky and tackily obvious, but even worse was the moment when they put a painted mask over his face. Sorry – one level of artifice too many. Can’t see that going down well with Middle America.
Onwards - guest appearance by French & Saunders to “spoil” the Christmas song for Mr Lufa Wetwipe. The rest – this was full on best-of-Rufus-so-far, in extravagant knock’em out mode, from mesmeric piano songs to the camped-up vaudeville of ‘Old Whore’s Diet’ with the band sand-dancing along. Yep, a whole lotta fun.