30th June The De La Warr Pavilion By Ed Boxall
The first Rufus’ song I heard was Nobody’s Off The Hook. It was love at first listen. It’s a friendship-love song with an impossibly pretty melody and string quartet arrangement. He didn’t play it at The De La Warr; I’ve seen him four times and he doesn’t ever play quite the right songs. It’s almost as if he doesn’t plan his gigs just for me.
Let’s put this selfish complaint aside: it was a fabulous night.
PICTURE: Neal @Hare and Hawthorn
He played on his own with piano and guitar. I’ve never seen him play a whole gig like this before and it was lovely, intimate and natural. He started by telling us about his swim in the Bexhill sea, having fish and chips and wanting to doze off. He was full of warmth and funny anecdotes throughout.
His voice was amazing. His voice has got better and better over the years. No one sings like Rufus. He’s got a breathless superhuman soaring voice but he does not make it look effortless like opera singers do. It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch on some of the high ones – like he’s going to burst a vein.
Third song in and I was hopeful it might be my fantasy-Rufus-gig after all as he did Memphis Skyline. This is an extraordinary song that I’ve never heard him play live before. It’s a strange, long, slow dream-song about his friend Jeff Buckley. It’s got three or four musical sections with no chorus. It’s not going to make BBC Radio 1’s Breakfast Show any time soon! It takes you to some distant moonlit place where Rufus finds flickering, fading memories of his lost friend. It’s full of sad longing and somehow sounds as deep as the ocean.
The recorded version has lots of layers and is very produced. It’s incredible how he gets all the drama of songs like Memphis Skyline across just with voice and piano. I love the ambitious orchestration on his studio recordings but the performance left me feeling he could have saved a lot of money and recorded a lot of songs just with piano. He does the whole orchestra’s light and shade with piano and voice.
He’s not so good on guitar and he plays it in a weird way where he strums really hard with his fingers rather than with a pick. It looks really painful. I do worry about the state of Rufus’s fingertips. But there were more important things to worry about and Rufus dealt with Trump with a hilarious rap that was a perfectly timed, light and filthy moment in the middle of the set.
Slightly disappointingly after Memphis Skyline he went on to do a pretty familiar setlist – including Art Teacher, Gay Messiah, Going To A Town, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk. All fabulous but I would have liked a few more surprises!
He did play some new songs from his next pop album, due next year. It all sounds very promising! There was an intense song about a hangover, a beautiful love song for his husband Jorn, and a vocally stunning slow song about needing ‘Alone Time’. I think my favourite new one was a quietly anthemic song celebrating ‘Only The People Who Love’.
A warm and lovely evening from a completely unique writer and performer. I’m sure he’ll be back, after all, he said how much he liked ‘darling little’ Bexhill about 3 times. If he does, I’m writing the set list!
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