Rufus Wainwright at the Sage Gateshead, 2007

Last night, I went to the Sage to see Rufus Wainwright on the first date of his UK tour. It was the third time I’d seen him, and as always he put on a great show.

Even though I booked fairly early, the best seat I could get was in the last but one row of the highest level of Hall One at the Sage, but at least I was right in the middle of the row. The seats are raked very steeply, and staggered, so the only way you could fail to have a perfect (if slightly distant) view of the stage is for a giraffe to be sitting two rows in front of you. And the sound was absolutely perfect, as expected in a venue designed to be a world-class concert venue. The only drawback was the lack of legroom, which meant my poor old knees grumbled a lot for much of the show.

After a rather good opening set from singer-songwriter Scott Matthews, whose work I’ll have to investigate further, Rufus’s band took the stage at around 8:30. The lights were low, so it wasn’t possible to see who was who. Someone was sitting at the piano – was it Rufus in a hat? Well, no. Once everyone was in place, the man himself came on, in a very white suit covered in glittery brooches.

The show was dominated by songs from the current album, Release the Stars, and what a fine collection of songs they are. After the first fifty minutes or so, there was a twenty minute interval, after which Rufus returned wearing what appeared to be Sound of Music style Lederhosen. I could be wrong, as he was a bit distant. The long white socks suited him, anyway…

More music followed, with a total on-stage time of around two hours, which was enough to entertain everyone and leave us all wanting more – now that he’s got five albums to choose from, there’s no way he can play everything that everyone wants to hear, but he did play some of my favourites – The Art Teacher being a good example.

As always, the show was a mixture of the full band, Rufus playing solo on the piano, and smaller parts of the band. And the band deserve a mention – along with the usual guitar, bass (electric and big upright string thingy) and drums, Rufus brought along his outrageously talented horn section – guys who between them played more instruments than seems decent. And at one point, drummer Matt Johnson took over bass playing duties.

Other highlights included the traditional over-the-top costume routine for the encore. The second set ended with 14th Street. Rufus left the stage first, with the band leaving one by one, in an obvious ploy to give Rufus time to change…

So, back he came in a white dressing gown and at down at the piano for a few old favourites, including I don’t know what it is. Then came the fun bit…

Off came the dressing gown, revealing a Cabaret-style outfit: dinner jacket, top hat, fishnets and heels. The band came back on dressed in dark suits and managed a creditable dance routine to Rufus’s performance of Get Happy. The music was on backing tape, as the band were otherwise occupied, and I don’t honestly know if Rufus was miming or using a radio mike, but it doesn’t really matter – it was a great performance, and possibly the best show closer I’ve seen him do yet. After that, the band returned to their instruments, and Rufus closed the show with Gay Messiah. And that was that.

Lots more comments, set lists and details can be found on the relevant section of the Rufus Wainwright Message Board.