The church of Rufus Wainwright is a smoky club in northwest D.C. He rests helpless and made-up on a white crucifix, his hands tied, his chest heaving under an electric blue tunic. “Gay Messiah,” a swirling, wispy acoustic song about the coming of a homosexual savior (who will, in fact, be wearing tube socks) plays behind him, and the words resonate from his tilted throat, a call to his followers.
Backtracking, Rufus began his cabaret at the 9:30 Club with “Oh, What a World,” eventually settled into a few whiny tricks about his varying interpersonal relationships, and finished with a performance fit for musical theater. All eyes and sex organs were pointed front and center, where Rufus stood surrounded by his animated but ignorable band. His vibrant discourse with the audience included unbelievable tales of men who wouldn’t sleep with him. He dutifully smooched a hopeful woman sporting a shirt that read “I drove six hours to get a kiss from Rufus.”
The most satisfying span of music occurred during the back-to-back “The Art Teacher” and “Memphis Skyline,” arguably the best songs from “Want Two,” Rufus’s latest album. The slower and more percussive version of Rufus’s ode to his inner schoolgirl, followed by his tribute to the late Jeff Buckley, made the evening’s perfect pair. Rufus also debuted a flurry of brand new tracks, which failed to rile the crowd as much as the ones they could romantically mouth the words to.
The finale, bound to be impressive (it was Halloween, after all), met all expectations. “Old Whore’s Diet,” a quirky samba, merited Rufus’s short, spiky hip thrusts. A violin solo gave Rufus and Co. time to change for the crucifixion finale. His band members, decked in floaty white robes, gently tied their messiah to the blank cross prop and worshipped him. Arrogant? Maybe, but the humor element doesn’t glimmer, it shines. The pride and comical self-caricature combination delivers the goods to the audience, and honestly, his fans don’t just like him for his music. The majestic showmanship of it all justifies reverence (and a lot of cat calls).
The encore of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” capped off the religious experience of the evening, and, with a bow, the gleeful gay pride guru was off to break hearts, sustain more pitch-perfect notes and leave everyone - gay or straight - with the chance to dream of sleeping with him.