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Calvin Theatre to host Rufus Wainwright III Saturday

Remember that song? The one that Leonard Cohen penned and Jeff Buckley made famous?

The song is “Hallelujah,” a gorgeous ballad of biblical allusions and secular lust that has been covered by many, but matched by few. 

Now think back a couple years to that standout cover performance that was prominently featured on the “Shrek” soundtrack. Undeniably heartfelt, this piano-based cover made the soundtrack a double-platinum selling record.

Now you know Rufus Wainwright.

Wainwright will perform a set of his old-world meets modern-age piano ballads at the Calvin Theater this coming Saturday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m.

The vocal powerhouse is best known for his operatic pop ballads – technically complex, yet beautifully accessible. 

From birth, Wainwright was destined to be a musical sensation. Father Loudon Wainwright III and mother Kate McGarrigle were highly influential figures of the folk music scene.

Though they divorced when Wainwright was scarcely older than two, the couple fostered passion for music in Wainwright. 

At the beginning of his career, the young singer and pianist toured with his mother’s band, aptly named the McGarrigle Sisters and Family. The band also featured Wainwright’s famous sister Martha, who went on to develop a fairly extensive solo career of her own.

Wainwright was not entirely fulfilled by his family music business, however, and began performing solo shows at local clubs and bars.

At the beginning of his career, Wainwright was an underdog to say the very least, competing with the likes of Buckley for performances in New York’s famous Sin-é.

His name caught flame in the Montreal club scene, and he was eventually signed to DreamWorks Records.

The songwriter’s solo debut, a self-titled album featuring pared-down piano with Wainwright’s strong, theatrical vocals, was released in early 1998.

Wainwright covers everything from unrequited love to religion in his songs, making for quite the varied set list.

The Canadian crooner is no stranger to the cinema either. He has recorded songs for an extensive list of films, including the aforementioned ogre love story, as well as “I Am Sam” and “Brokeback Mountain.”

His cinematic resume also includes several acting performances, including a small role in “The Aviator.”

Wainwright’s cover of “Hallelujah” was not the songwriter’s only tribute to the late Buckley. He penned the song “Memphis Skyline” in honor of the legendary performer, who met his tragic end in Memphis.

Wainwright has a myriad of other influences in addition to Buckley. His music is heavily perfumed with inspiration from Leonard Cohen and Judy Garland.

The singer-songwriter’s respect for Garland was eventually translated into a 2007 tribute to the theatrical siren entitled “Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall.” It was his first widely released live album, and as his sixth album to date. 

Wainwright also toured with such diverse artists as the Dresden Dolls, Cyndi Lauper and the Indigo Girls for the “True Colors Tour,” which promoted gay rights.

Saturday’s Calvin performance promises all of Wainwright’s trademark spunk, trading piano for acoustic guitar to switch up the set list.

Valentine’s Day weekend sets the perfect scene for Wainwright’s music. Skip the flowers and the candy this year and let Wainwright serenade you and your sweetheart.

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at astasiow@student.umass.edu.

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