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Pop Music Review

Wainwright an Engaging, Versatile Singer

June 05, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN

Near the beginning of his Roxy performance on Wednesday, Rufus Wainwright referred to himself as "the guy who sat in the back of the classroom in high school that even the losers didn't hang out with." That sounds about right: This second-generation musical portraitist (he's the son of singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle) writes songs that seem to be the byproduct of countless lonely hours spent concocting imaginary scenarios for incurable romantics.

On his elegant debut album, "Rufus Wainwright," Wainwright weaves sugar-spun, ornately arranged melodies around songs whose protagonists bemoan the fleeting nature of love even as they bask in its afterglow.

Although the offhanded urbanity and sophistication of Wainwright's material bears a surface resemblance to musical theater, he's a far more restrained and introverted performer than your typical Broadway belter. On Wednesday, an engagingly unassuming Wainwright sat behind a piano facing stage right and masterfully uncoiled intricate melody lines in a fluttery, resonant croon.

Accompanied by a quintet that featured X drummer DJ Bonebrake, Wainwright came off like a torch singer trapped in the spindly body of a Silver Lake hipster. His short set showcased enormous breadth: "In Your Arms"--one of four duets sung with his sister Martha--was a lazy shuffle performed with a distinctly jazzy flavor; "April Fools," an overtly sunny pop song, bopped along with a lilting melody that Brian Wilson would've approved of; and the story-song "Millbrook" was given a droll interpretation that hinted at Randy Newman's influence.

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