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Story and Photos by Matt SchwenkeLeading up to a two-night stint of performing nothing but Judy Garland songs at L.A.'s Greek Theatre, a very animated and dramatic Rufus Wainwright offered up a preview of that show at the Pabst Theatre, singing two Garland songs while wearing a lederhosen, in what would become a night of wondrous auditory and visual spectacles that had the crowd enwrapped from the first song.
Receiving a rather warm reception as he walked out on stage and later in announcing legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles ("Gimme Shelter," "Monterey Pop") would be filming the evening's performance, Wainwright began the cabaret-like evening walking about the stage and crooning "Release the Stars," from his latest album of the same name and to which handfuls of stars, given out before the show, appeared on cue as the stage lights lit up the audience and transformed the venue into a heavenly scene. Toning things down a bit, Wainwright's voice shone brightly as he pined behind piano on "Leaving for Paris." Announcing it was time for the "fun part" of the show, Wainwright invited members of the audience on stage to sing "Between My Legs" between his legs, before sitting atop the shoulder's of his "very special man" Jorn, who delivered spoken word between his legs.
A second take of "Art Teacher" didn't seem to bother the crowd much at all though breaking up the momentum, but the minor nuisance was easy to ignore as Wainwright left the stage to return in the second set wearing a lederhosen for Garland's "A Foggy Day (in London Town)" and "If Love Were All," which was sung with grandeur befitting the famous names that dot the walls of the regal theatre. In a song that apparently "matches these pants perfectly," the lederhosen stayed on while Wainwright delivered "Nobody's Off the Hook" with piano playing nearly as expressive as his voice.
As the dynamic show ebbed and flowed, with horns of Mariachi-like power in "Beautiful Child" representing one of many peaks in energy and the quiet whisperings of "I'm Not Ready to Love" as one of the valleys, perhaps the most engaging moment of the evening was the Irish folk song "Macushla," which Wainwright proclaimed returned the crowd "to a time with big hats and long skirts." With the band playing unplugged on the side of the stage, Wainwright sang the tune without the aid of amplifiers, and the acoustics of the theatre carried his incredible voice to the highest seats-- a retake for the film's sake was as hauntingly beautiful as the first.
An encore performance of "I Don't Know What It Is" led into a solo performance of "I Like Pretty Things," which offered up the most striking pin-drop sort of moments, before the show was transformed yet again. Donning lipstick and jewelry while stripping away the bathrobe to reveal a suit coat, black pantyhose and high heels, a Rocky Horror Picture Show moment erupted as the band, now all wearing black tuxedos, danced around Wainwright in a sort of can-can dance for two takes of "Get Happy," before "Gay Messiah" ended a night of exceptional variety.
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