Lit by a multitude of candles and bereft of electric amplification, Rufus Wainwright and friends — including his sister, Martha; Joan Wasser; Beth Orton; and Paul Simon's son, Harper — played the Orensanz last night to bring attention to Blackout Sabbath. That's Rufus's big, global-warming-busting plan for everyone to forgo electricity on June 21, post a fridge list of ways to help the planet, and generally, in his words, "stop, live and take the Gandhi approach" for 24 hours.
"Electricity is overrated," said one of the women early in the show (we couldn't see whom), but it was hard not to miss electricity when Rufus & Co. appeared as dim figures in the gloom and most banter and lyrics were lost on everyone but the lucky souls in the first four rows. Big group numbers, like opener "Stayin' Alive" and the closing, Preservation Hall–style "Bye Bye Love," scanned well, but much of Martha's voice — that singular, exquisitely strangulated instrument — was lost to the rafters.
Not so with the Ruf, his voice strengthened by belting out big Judy Garland classics the past few years. His solos of "California" and Irish folk song "Makoushla" pierced the dark with his strangely transfixing mix of girlie and virile tones. When he tauntingly reeled the high note of "California" out over the audience, it was the pure sound of someone who luxuriates almost onanistically in his own pipes. The old ghosts of the Orensanz shuddered along with him in pleasure. —Tim Murphy