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Musical adventurer Rufus Wainwright returns to touring, plays D.C. Sept. 28

From Judy to Shakespeare to opera, gay wunderkind embraces it all

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Rufus Wainwright says critics considered his 2020 album a ‘seminal’ project. (Photo by Tony Hauser)

Rufus Wainwright and Jose Gonzalez
Unfollow the Rules in the Local Valley Tour
The Anthem
901 Wharf St., S.W.
Tuesday, Sept. 28
8 p.m. (doors: 630)
$55-75
ticketsonsale.com
theanthemdc.com
rufuswainright.com

After some artistic detours — in 2018, a second opera; before that, an album of songs based on Shakespearean sonnets in 2016 — Rufus Wainwright returned to his “regular” music in July 2020 with the release of his 10th studio album “Unfollow the Rules,” which was critically embraced and nominated for a Grammy.

A live album of the “Unfollow” material dubbed “The Paramour Sessions” was released Sept. 10.

Wainwright, 48, spoke to the Blade by phone on Sept. 1 from Nashville where he had a City Winery show that night as part of his “Unfollow the Rules Tour.” He joins Jose Gonzalez for the “Unfollow the Rules in the Local Valley Tour,” a co-headlining, 10-city mini-tour, next week. They play The Anthem on Sept. 28. Then Wainwright, who’s been publicly out since his eponymous debut album dropped in 1998, will resume his solo tour next month in the U.K. His comments have been slightly edited. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: You’re back on the road. What have the audiences been like?

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: Well, they’re very excited. … There’s definitely a palpable sense of appreciation and excitement. And it’s good to be back.

BLADE: Do you feel safer singing more of the new album now that it’s been out a year and people have had time to absorb it? Is that easier than trying to sing more of it when it’s just out?

WAINWRIGHT: I definitely enjoy the whole kind of common knowledge thing now that exists with this album. And certainly having this other record, “The Paramour Sessions,” to promote as well, which is just another take on some of the same material. One can also go on a bit of a deeper dive. You know, this album actually did very well critically, it was nominated for a Grammy and a lot of people consider it a seminal work for me. I think it can handle that stretch.

BLADE: Do the new songs dovetail fairly naturally with your older songs in a set?

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, this album is very much related to my first album. I’m not going to be doing my first album in the show, but it’s kind of a return to my California roots. You know, where I began my career over 20 years ago. The songs are answers in a way to some of the questions raised on the first album. … I’m not singing them back to back or anything, but a lot of my fans have followed me from the beginning so we all get it.  

BLADE: How did “Unfollow the Rules: The Paramour Sessions” come about?

WAINWRIGHT: When the album was released, we still wanted to do something special online so we made this film doing a lot of the songs with a smaller ensemble at this incredible Hollywood mansion. This was at the height of the pandemic, possibly slightly illegally in the sense that we weren’t necessarily supposed to be working. But people needed to do something, you know, to get their heads out of the chaos. This was last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests and just the heat of those fires that were about to ignite, there was a very intense atmosphere and I do feel strongly that some of that drama is possibly on the recording. At least I think there’s this sort of depth there that can only come out of something like that. 

BLADE: Did it seem relatively easy returning to quote-unquote pop music after writing opera? 

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah. One of the great gifts of me writing opera, which I will continue to do intermittently, is that it gave me a whole new appreciation of where I came from and all the freedoms I have in the pop world. I’m very grateful for my work in the songwriting universe and all the freedom that comes with it. 

BLADE: Are you co-headlining this tour with Jose Gonzalez?

WAINWRIGHT: Yes. It will be nice to be out with a brilliant songwriter and singer. It’s been a while since I’ve done this sort of thing. When I began my career, it was more the norm to be part of a lineup. 

BLADE: Do you know him? Will you sing anything together?

WAINWRIGHT: We haven’t met but I think it will be a very emotional meeting in a way, because it’s been a long time coming. 

BLADE: What was it like revisiting the Judy (Garland) album last summer and on her birthday no less? (Wainwright recreated Garland’s famous live Carnegie Hall album in 2007.)

WAINWRIGHT: It was a thrill. How many people can claim to have sang the same songs in the same room where she recorded a lot of them and on the actual microphone that she used with Renee Zellweger (who won an Oscar for the 2019 biopic “Judy”) as a captive audience. So yeah, I just felt a lot of gratitude and felt very privileged to be able to go on that journey. So yes, in honor of Judy, but the main thread that I’m actually worshipping is the material itself whether it’s Gershwin or Berlin. They inspire me, as a songwriter myself, to keep the bar fairly high. 

BLADE: You’ve hinted in other interviews that you want to write a Broadway musical and perhaps a ballet. You’ve written two operas. Where does this drive come from to conquer such ambitious and disparate art forms?

WAINWRIGHT: Well obviously with COVID, touring was suspended for a while, so it was a chance to try to advance the Broadway jalopy, which I’ve been trying to do for a while. There are about three or four projects that I have in the works that unfortunately I can’t talk about too much, but what I can say is that there is a wholehearted effort going on to, you know, secure my place on the Great White Way one way or another. It’s something people have been after me to do over the years because they say my music already has that sensibility. So I’m finally kind of doing my homework now. 

BLADE: And whether it’s Broadway or opera, what are the gatekeepers like in those arenas? Since you’re a known entity, is it easy to at least get a pitch meeting? How does it work?

WAINWRIGHT: Well they’re very different. I’m happy that I went into the opera world first. My first opera has been done seven times all over the world and my second one has other productions coming, so it’s been a success. Not everybody adores my work, but it made an impact and it seems to be continuing on so that’s all you can ask for anyway. I’m happy I did it, but it’s a very, very tough battle. The standards are very, very high, which is actually a good thing. With Broadway, I think there’s a whole financial element to it where people are looking to make a fortune off of these shows, so that’s kind of new for me and something I have to be cognitive of. 

BLADE: You said in another interview that the classical world could be poisonous at times. How so?

WAINWRIGHT: I meant it was the opposite of what I believed it was going to be. I had a very nice view of the classical world, and I’ve adored opera for most of my life. I thought I would be able to unleash my talents and it would be accepted and appreciated and I would be, you know, brought into the fold when in fact, it was the opposite. They were very, very dubious to me and very protective of their sacred cows, so it was a real rude awakening. It’s a very cliquish environment and everybody kind of knows everybody. So if somebody wanted to poison the well, they can and then it spreads to this massive disease about you and they’re able to spread it very easily. So the happy story is that it survived and thrived and I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

BLADE: Whether they’re fans or not, most people would concur your songs are fairly intelligent. Are art and culture and society in general getting dumbed down a little more each year?

WAINWRIGHT: I think there are some aspects that need some attending to for sure. I mean in the pop songwriting world, I’d say lyrics are really under threat. When you look at the generation that’s about to exit — people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and the ones who have left us, like Bowie, and so forth, lyrics were really kind of the most brilliant jewel in the art form and now they’re just so throwaway. I don’t profess to be the world’s greatest lyricist or anything, but I do try very hard and I wouldn’t say the age we’re in is a golden age of the word. But maybe there are other art forms, like fashion or something perhaps, that are at their peak now, who knows? 

BLADE: Was it hard to maintain sobriety during lockdown last year?

WAINWRIGHT: No. My wonderful husband (Jorn Weisbrodt, whom Wainwright married in 2012), he’s not about alcohol at all. He doesn’t drink because he just doesn’t need to. And I do Zoom meetings here and there. So I thank my lucky stars it wasn’t. It would have been hard to contend with alcohol as well as COVID. 

BLADE: How’s your daughter? What’s she excited about these days? (Wainwright’s daughter Viva is 10)

WAINWRIGHT: Oh, she’s into horseback riding. She loves Tina Turner. She loves to draw. She’s actually really happy to be back in school and hanging out with her friends. 

BLADE: How often do you talk to your dad on average? (Wainwright is the son of Loudon Wainwright III, an acclaimed singer/songwriter.)

WAINWRIGHT: We try to talk once a week. We’ve kind of made it into this calendar item and it works really well that way. Just to touch base and see how we’re doing. Other times we’ll get into more sensitive territory. I think especially since losing my mother, I’m just aware that it’s a finite amount of time these people are going to be around, so you might as well spend time with them while you can. 

BLADE: How closely do you follow current pop music? Is there anybody who particularly excites you?

WAINWRIGHT: I do. I like Perfume Genius and Lana Del Rey. And I like The Weeknd. When those songs come on, I’m like, “Wow, that’s a real hit.” I admire that because I’ve never been able to crack that nut, nor do I think I probably ever will. 

Rufus Wainwright says returning to pop songcraft after two operas was artistically satisfying. (Photo by Tony Hauser)
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Music & Concerts

DC Different Drummers Jazz Band to perform ‘Oasis’

Performance by combo ‘2nd Independence’ scheduled

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The DC Different Drummers Jazz Band will perform on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Central Library.

This concert, titled “The Oasis,” will feature the 20-person big band playing jazz pieces in a variety of styles, from swing to bossa nova to jazz fusion and more. There will also be a performance from the improvisational jazz combo, 2nd Independence.

Admission is free and more details are available on the event’s website

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Music & Concerts

D.C.’s live music venues are jumpin’ again

Lizzo, B-52s, and Bob Mould all coming to town this fall

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Lizzo brings her ‘Special Tour’ to D.C. this fall. (Photo by DFree/Bigstock)

As summer comes to a close, many venues across the DMV are gearing up for their fall entertainment rosters. Below is a list of must-see music acts in the upcoming months.

Mary J. Blige brings her “Good Morning Gorgeous” tour to Capital One Arena on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $69.50 at Tickmaster.com.

Pet Shop Boys and New Order bring their “Unity Tour” to Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $29.50-169.50 at Merriweather’s website.

7th Annual Law Rocks Washington DC will be on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30p.m. at 9:30 Club. Law Rocks toured first to D.C. in 2015 and has raised more than $615,000. Eight bands of musically brilliant legal professionals will be rocking out to support local nonprofit organizations. Tickets are available on Law Rocks’s website

Don’t miss out performer Lil Nas X at the Anthem on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m.

Lizzo performs her “Special Tour” at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Tickets start at $69.50 at ticketmaster.com.

Panic at the Disco performs its “Viva Las Vengeance” tour at Capital One Arena on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.; tickets at ticketmaster.com.

The legendary B-52s kicked off their farewell tour earlier this summer and it comes to D.C.’s Anthem on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at the Anthem site.

Two Feet: Fall Tour 2022 will be on Monday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at 9:30 Club. Brothel will be the opening act. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on 9:30 Club’s website.

Santigold will be performing as part of her Holified Tour on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website.  

Fairfax Symphony and Orchestra will be performing work from German composer Brahms and Sibelius on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Jeremy Denk will be on piano, and Christopher Zimmerman will music direct and conduct. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased on Capital One Hall’s website

Judah & the Lion will be performing on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website

Grammy Award-winning singer Steve Lacy will be performing on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $235 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website

The Reston Chorale, Piedmont Symphony Orchestra and PSO Rock Band will perform “Bohemian Rhapsody: The Music Of Queen (And Friends)” on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. at Capital One Hall. The music acts will perform some of Queen’s greatest hits, including “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Under Pressure,” and of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased on Ticketmaster

Local gay favorite Bob Mould plays at Wolf Trap on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C. will be celebrating the life and legacy of actress Judy Garland with a cabaret titled “Judy” on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. (ASL) and 8 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Fourteen select soloists from the Chorus will share stories as they sing their favorite Judy tunes. Songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” Tickets cost $45 and can be ppurchased on GMCWDC’s website

Morrissey performs at the Anthem on Monday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m.

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Music & Concerts

New Madonna remix collection solid but not exhaustive

Marred only by a few ’80s omissions, set is blazing history of club music’s evolution

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An all-vinyl edition of Madonna’s new remix collection ‘Finally Enough Love,’ sold out quickly, but the release is still available in several other formats, physical and digital. (Photo courtesy Warner/Rhino)

Madonna, though she has as many hit compilations as one would expect from an artist of her vintage and stature, has always seemed wary of looking back or indulging much degree of nostalgia about her career. 

As polarizing as her later albums sometimes are, one could never accuse her of cashing in, as so many veteran acts do, on tour after tour of the same old set list designed to hit all the obvious musical marks, please the most tepid of fans and make easy millions. But she has almost swung too far the other way. Hits sometimes have felt grudgingly performed at her live shows of the last, oh, 20 years or so, and have, at times, been so radically re-crafted — an approach that can be thrilling when it works, no doubt — the spirit of the original track has been sometimes painfully undercut.

All that to say, it’s fun to see Our Lady of the Remix — for whom in popdom is more deserving of that title? — look back so sumptuously with the Aug. 19 release of “Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones,” (☆☆☆ out of four) a new 50-track remix collection available digitally, in a three-disc CD set and a sold-out six-LP vinyl edition, as well as “Finally Enough Love,” a 16-track version on single CD, double vinyl and digitally. The releases are the first since it was announced last summer that Madonna was returning to her original label, Warner Records, in a new deal that would include a series of deluxe catalogue reissues. It celebrates her record-shattering span of 50 No. 1 hits on the Billboard U.S. Dance Songs Club chart, starting with “Holiday”/“Lucky Star” (only “Holiday” is here, though) in 1983 and culminating with “I Don’t Search I Find” in early 2020 from her 2019 album “Madame X.” The collection’s title is taken from that track. For context, those trailing her record of 50 No. 1 hits on that chart are Rihanna (33), Beyonce (22), Janet (20) and Katy Perry (19); Madonna’s record here is the most number ones by an artist/band on any Billboard chart ever.

It’s also especially nice to see since remixes have been so essential to Madonna’s career. The only time she ever released anything remotely akin to this before was either very early (1987’s “You Can Dance” remix album) or oddly random (the 2003 EP “Remixed & Revisited”). 

This collection is not, as one might guess, a collection of her all-time greatest remixes or even necessarily the versions of the songs that charted. Gen. Xers who gobbled up her maxi singles all through the ’90s and beyond will find their stash, if retained, are still the only sources (not counting unofficial YouTube postings) for classics such as the “Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Re-remix” of “Express Yourself” from the “Justify My Love” maxi (also home to the deliciously weird “The Beast Within Mix”), the “Waiting” remix (a non-single) from the “Rain” maxi or any of the varied delights (e.g. “Madonna Gets Hardcore”) on the import “Bye Bye Baby” maxi. 

Even if you’re a completist of the highest order — and there certainly are folks like that in the Madonnaverse — your experience won’t be sullied or buoyed much by the mixes included or excluded. 

Tons of other remixes here are just slight variations of mixes we’ve heard before. I haven’t been following these releases like a hawk in recent years, but if you collected these in any capacity over the years, there will likely be a fresh balance of familiar and unfamiliar motifs and passages sprinkled throughout. 

Most of the remixes retain the bulk of the lyrics from the album versions and are tight edits (no 10-minute percussion solos). The earlier cuts on disc one are the least radical, a non-surprise considering remixing trends of the ’80s. And while many of these mixes are heretofore unreleased, they are nearly all vintage or, where tweaked, retain the spirit of their album counterparts. There’s no radical thumpa-thumpa version of “Everybody” or “Material Girl,” for example; disc three, containing the newest material, is by far the most pounding/rave-influenced. 

Standouts for me were the loungy, uptempo-yet-chill vibe of the “Underground Club Mix” of “Erotica” (straight from the vintage “Erotica” maxi), the “PSB Maxi Mix Edit” of “Sorry,” (until now, a promo-only mix), the “Eddie Amador Club 5 Edit” of “Give it 2 Me,” (vintage, but never commercially available until now) and “Avicii’s UMF Mix” of “Girl Gone Wild,” which features a spidery instrumental motif that could almost work as a fugal theme.

As a whole, however, there are a few impediments to the way this all goes down, especially if you listen straight through. A few tracks — e.g. the “Sasha Ultra Violet Mix Edit” of “Ray of Light” with its sputtery beat pattern or the loungy, uber-chill vibe of the “Bob Sinclar Space Funk Edit” of “4 Minutes” (this edit of which was only ever previously released on a 12” vinyl picture disc) — give needed contrast to the mostly unrelenting 4/4 beat patterns. But after a while, especially on discs two and three, it all starts sounding like little more than “Hooked on Madonna,” of the famous “Hooked on Classics” series from the ’80s, which set classical themes to dance beats. Of course, some of that is to be expected given the nature of the release, but as an actual experience, it’s occasionally tedious. 

And while the DJs are all obviously talented and at times quite creative, by the middle of disc two, one starts wondering if a wiz/nerd with access to the stems could have almost come up with something just as good on a Yamaha Clavinova or the like. Almost. 

It also moves a lot faster through her catalogue than you might guess. Since classics like “Papa Don’t Preach” and La Isla Bonita” were not No. 1 dance hits, we get to “Like a Prayer” and “Vogue” barely halfway through disc one. 

When a non-Madonna-penned single pops up — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (from “Evita”) or Don McLean’s “American Pie” (from “The Next Best Thing”), they jump out as markedly better examples of songcraft than just about anything Madonna ever came up with herself. Going straight from “Pie” to “Music,” one of M’s most lyrically insipid compositions ever to my ear, is especially painful. For sure, there are dozens of pop masterpieces here, but the covers tend to accentuate the froth on cuts like “Turn Up the Radio” or “Jump.” 

On the brighter side, however, the vocals sound stronger and sweeter than I recalled. Yeah, they’re likely auto-tuned and otherwise studio sweetened, but there were several passages — “Nothing Really Matters,” “Keep it Together,” “Deeper and Deeper” — when it’s clear Madonna is a better studio singer than she ever gets credit for.

Booklets, too, are thorough and nicely done with detailed track info and pics of all her single artwork. 

While there are 50 tracks here, the math is a bit fuzzy. “Angel,” which charted jointly with its flip side “Into the Groove,” is absent as is “Causing a Commotion,” which had a vinyl Record Store Day release back in April, though it’s annoying it’s not here. Because “You Can Dance” topped the chart as an entire album and the Britney duet “Me Against the Music” was not from a Madonna project, there’s a little wiggle room numerically in how this set was curated. 

Madonna’s new remix album ‘Finally Enough Love’ collects vintage mixes of her many hits, but often in slightly different versions from what has previously been commercially available. (Photo courtesy Warner/Rhino)
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