There’s nothing simple about Rufus Wainwright. Even stripped of the Shakespearean plays and London opera circuits he’s been running in and around of late, the singer/songwriter has a level of complexity to him; verbose lyrical techniques butt up against intricate piano runs, and are punctuated by Wainwright’s matter-of-fact subjects and soaring deliveries. On Tuesday night at Campbell Hall, Wainwright and his multilayered persona were on fine display to a near-full room of fans. Taking to the stage with no more than an acoustic guitar and a grand piano to guide him along, Wainwright immediately launched into “The Art Teacher,” then “Grey Gardens,” as if trying to get the saddest songs out of the way first.
In between turns at the piano and the guitar, the singer riffed on the strangely idyllic Santa Barbara landscape, the upcoming presidential election, and his preset trip to the gym, each anecdote punctuated with a heavy helping of self-deprecation. In one of the set’s more stunning moments, he followed up his Romney rant with the bleak “Going to a Town.” There, lines like, “I’m so tired of you, America,” were delivered with a renewed sense of urgency that seemed to ring true for many in the audience. While fans hung tight to Wainwright’s older hits (“Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” “Poses,” a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”), newer numbers (specifically, the set-ending “Montauk”) found the singer at his most affecting, further proving that with Wainwright, you simply never know what you’re going to get.