While the young have raced to get outdoors this summer of vaccine (and the foolish never came indoors from their winter of discontent), more senior sorts have stuck to their homebody ways. And not just those now old enough for a booster shot, but the refined/middle-aged, whose most outgoing days were already behind them, but still enjoy a night out (though they have to find a babysitter first). But even they have been taking advantage of these last days of summer/first days of autumn, vaccine card in hand, such as heading to New York’s Pier 17 Rooftop for the adult harmonies of Rufus Wainwright and José González on Thursday, September 30th.
The Rooftop on Pier 17 is a decidedly classy place (QRO venue review), and if that means higher ticket & drink prices, it also means that it can well handle a show not meant for the rock club. There were vax card checks, attentive staff & security, and the bartenders kept themselves from falling into the habit of yelling over the band. The audience area itself was divided between a seated front center section and general standing area around it. It wasn’t exactly warm this last night of September, but people had prepared for the coming fall.
José González played solo on the big stage, just him & guitar, even seated (though raised platform). That would be a tough assignment for most openers, but the Wainwright crowd knows how to act around a solo singer/songwriter, and were hushed for González’s quiet performance. Playing mostly off of this month’s Local Valley (QRO review), the beauty was natural on the East River, Brooklyn Bridge behind him (“I feel like I can see all the way to Sweden” – he was actually looking south…). Pier 17 also has a cameraman and two jumbo screens on either side of the stage, which really helped people enjoy solo González.
González also played a few from 2015’s Vestiges & Claws (QRO review), as well as “Line of Fire” from his band Junip’s self-titled record (QRO review), and even asked the crowd whether they wanted a cover of Nick Drake, Al Green, or Paul McCartney, then remarking on the applauses, “I feel that’s pretty clear for Nick Drake”, proceeding to do Drake’s “Cello Song”. Yet also included in his set were stripped down covers of more recent, electronic artists like fellow Swedes The Knife (“Heartbeats”) and Bristol’s Massive Attack (“Teardrop”).
“When we made this record two years ago, the plan was to go on a giant tour with a ten-piece band,” Rufus Wainwright remarked at one point, then noting that plans change (also that he was supposed to win a Grammy, but lost Best Traditional Pop Album to James Taylor…). After touring solo earlier this year (QRO live review), Wainwright brought ‘just’ three musicians as his band with him on this tour. But he still brought his big voice, and made it the big show that last year’s Unfollow the Rules (QRO review) deserves.
This was very much an Unfollow show, playing the entire record, in order, with just a few other songs thrown in the middle & at the end. Whether albums or operas, Wainwright does nothing half-assed, and he put as much as he could into bringing Unfollow to the Pier 17 stage, including new outfits. There was the dramatic opening of “Trouble In Paradise” and “Damsel In Distress”, but also the ironic “You Ain’t Big”, which Wainwright noted that he wrote about the music industry’s push for an artist to be “big” in places like Alabama and Kansas (but not Lawrence, Kansas…), adding that it’s now also where COVID is big. Last year, “Only the People That Love” was dedicated to everyone, “except one person,” but now to “about 75% of the population…”
But it wasn’t all Rules. He mentioned a song that has always brought him joy, 2001 single “Poses” – “sorry, it’s not ‘Hallelujah’…” Even among the many covers of Leonard Cohen’s acclaimed “Hallelujah”, Wainwright’s has stood out, and he has a personal connection, as the mother of his child Viva is the late Cohen’s own daughter Lorca. Indeed, later on he remarked, “Don’t worry, you’re gonna get your Cohen fix…” before Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne”. That was the second cover he did after inviting González on stage to join him, the first being Neil Young’s “Harvest”, which is on Wainwright’s sold-only-on-tour collection of covers of fellow Canadians, Northern Stars. For “Marianne”, first Wainwright stopped to retune his guitar, then forgot the words, “There are just so many lyrics,” with González helping him out.
Wainwright also played a brand-new song, “Argentina”, because this night was the first time in a while he’d seen his husband Jörn Weisbrodt (and their dog Siegfried), the piece covering Wainwright being away from his husband while on tour in South America, before adding in it, “I lied / I’ve never been there.” Every record, Wainwright writes a song for his husband, like Unfollow’s “Peaceful Afternoon”.
Before playing “Argentina”, Wainwright mentioned that there was a curfew (always an issue with outdoor venues) but he was still going to fit it in – indeed, he & his band started fifteen minutes early (they were able to have their gear, like Wainwright’s piano, up on stage before the evening began). There was his self-declared moment for “commerce,” promoting the t-shirts on sale that he had designed, including “artisanal” eco-friendly ones made out of old tour t-shirts.
Lower Manhattan certainly knows commerce, and this was not a night for the kids and their bargain basement parties. Instead, the grown-ups got a chance to go out and enjoy themselves with two grown-up artists at a grown-up place.