A security team ushered someone with a big jacket over their head to the side of the stage midway through Rufus Wainwright’s solo gig Tuesday night at the Minnesota Zoo amphitheater. Then Wainwright started talking about a special guest known for sequins and short black hair.
I have to confess, I briefly thought it was Prince, who’s known to be in town at the moment and very well could be a fan (though I highly doubted he’d come on stage). But the little man would have been ho-hum compared to the big name who actually showed up: Liza Minnelli, whom Wainwright has paid tribute to many times throughout his 16-year career.
“She loves the zoo,” Wainwright explained to the crowd. Later, he encouraged his guest to pick up the acoustic guitar and stage to accompany him. “She’s one of the world’s great guitarists,” he explained.
OK, so Minnelli looked a lot like Wainright’s sister and opening act, Lucy Wainwright Roche, wearing a wig and smeared makeup. She sang like Lucy, too. And the tall dude who showed up later in a Dorothy of Oz costume definitely wasn’t Liza’s dear mom.
Whoever they were, those guests and the near-sell-out crowd were treated to another gem of a show by the 40-year-old Canadian music heir and one-time Minneapolis resident. You knew he had to have spent time here when he got the host city right (Apple Valley). “I love playing here,” he said, gesturing to the zoo's lakeside, faux-cliff backdrop. “I always feel so… dramatic.”
There certainly were a lot of dramatic moments in the 100-minute performance, ranging from the brutally honest family epic “Dinner at Eight” to an aria from Wainwright’s still-gestating opera “Prima Donna.” Playing all by his lonesome for most of the night, Wainwright bounced between grand piano and acoustic guitar with swift efficiency despite the fact that he was wearing a silver Michael Jackson-like outfit that looked tighter than the zoo’s giant python cage. “I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through that one in these pants,” he cracked after digging deep for the high notes in “Vibrate.”
Performing without a band allowed Wainright to debut a couple new songs, one a lustful ditty he wrote about his husband, “Argentina,” and one that he introduced as “slightly scandalous.” Titled “Treat a Lady,” the latter was written in response to Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst’s song “Kick,” a less-than-complimentary portrait of RFK granddaughter Kick Kennedy. With lines about lacking chivalry and being a “hick,” Wainwwright’s song clearly wasn’t meant to be flattering, either.
Lucy showed up in the encore -- sans makeup and wig -- and added a pretty touch to both "Pretty Things" and "Hallelujah." Here’s the full set list.
Grey Gardens / The Maker Makes / Vibrate / Out of the Game / Jericho / Dinner at Eight / Argentina / Treat a Lady / Les feux d'artifice t'appellent (from Prima Donna) / Me And Liza / April Fools / Gay Messiah / Candles (sung a capella) / Going to a Town / I Don't Know What It Is / Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk ENCORE: The Art Teacher / Pretty Things / Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover) / Poses