Rufus Wainwright won’t hit age 50 until July 22, technically, but he started the festivities a few days early with “Fifty Isn’t the End,” a three-hour show at Long Island’s East End that was a tribute to Wainwright’s career, his family lineage and, inadvertently, some of the other children of famous musicians who happen to be among his pals.
With a lineup that included Jimmy Fallon, comic Tig Notaro, Laurie Anderson and members of Wainwright’s family, including his sister Martha and his father Loudon III, the show was a benefit for its locale: the Montauk Point Lighthouse, the fourth-oldest working lighthouse in the country. Wainwright drolly announced that the first half would be devoted to the “the soulful, pensive, depressing stuff,” which included Wainwright performing “Poses” by himself and “Millbrook” with Fallon. Martha Wainwright covered her brother’s “Montauk,” and Joan Wasser, otherwise known as Joan as Policeman, tackled his “Sword of Damocles.”
Wainwright honored his late mother Kate McGarrigle, who died in 2010, with a group sing-along of “First Born,” which she wrote when he was a kid in the 1970s and recorded with his aunt Anna. He, his sister, and longtime Wainwright-McGarrigle accompanist Chai Tannenbaum also did a moving cover of Kate’s “Talk to Me of Mendocino.”
Drolly commenting on the ongoing “Oedipal struggle” with his son, Wainwright’s father, Loudon Wainwright III, offered an a cappella blues stomp rendition of his “Rufus Is a Tit Man” (an ode to his young baby’s breast-feeding period) and joined his son on Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do.” And demonstrating yet again that music is the family business and trade — Fallon made a joking comparison to the “von Trapps” — Wainwright’s 12-year-old daughter, Viva, joined family members for a version of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.”
The show also served as a gathering place for the offspring of classic rockers. In honor of the nearby motel that gave the song its name, Wainwright and Jenni Muldaur (daughter of folk-blues-jazz singer Maria, of “Midnight at the Oasis” fame) joined up for a rare cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Memory Motel.” One unannounced guest, Chris Stills, son of CSNY’s Stephen, dueted with the Wainwrights on Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
After Fallon and Martha Wainwright threw themselves into an affectionate and unironic cover of the old Kenny and Dolly standard “Islands in the Stream,” Rufus cracked, “That was way too happy.” But Wainwright himself provided the night with several stellar covers himself. In honor of Paul Simon, a benefactor of the Lighthouse, he sang a lovely version of “American Tune,” as well as covering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.”
Wainwright recently released a new solo album, Folkocracy, full of covers and reinterpretations of folk songs. He also has an upcoming documentary in the works; the Montauk concert was filmed for use in the film.