A starry night at Rufus Wainwright performance 

Rufus Wainwright brought his inimitable, international show to San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium on Saturday, playing songs from his new album "Release the Stars."

That title tune, which opened the show, didn’t seem like just a metaphor. In the course of a couple of hours, the stylish, sassy, musically diverse performer touched — or rather, dazzled — the audience with light and dark musical colors.

Wearing a white suit studded with sparkles, changing into lederhosen for the second half of the show, and, for the finale, donning Judy Garland’s "Get Happy" get-up for a stunning rendition of the famous number with his band filling in as dancers, Wainwright proved his brilliance as an all-purpose performer.

Backed by seven versatile musicians, including a killer horn section, Wainwright led with his new songs: "Release the Stars," "Going To a Town," "Sanssouci" and "Rules and Regulations," a batch of lush, orchestral tunes he has said were inspired by German romanticism.

He switched moods, sitting at the piano, with his trademark laments and stories like "Harvester of Hearts" and "Art Teacher."

He closed the first half of a two-partshow with "Between My Legs," featuring a killer spoken-word performance from the winner of an online contest, who came on decked out in full-1920s flapper attire and rocked the house with the tune-ending lyric.

Wainwright pulled off a "rock" section of the show before singing the traditional Irish tune "Macushla" (a song he learned from his mom Kate McGarrigle), a cappella. It was gorgeous.

He put on some jewels for the Garland numbers (he’s recently been in the news for recreating Garland’s famed 1961 Carnegie Hall concert) including "A Foggy Day in London Town" and "If Love Were All." He teased the audience with the line "San Francisco, open your Golden Gate," but didn’t sing it, pointing out that "She never did one of my songs."

It’s too bad; his songs are equally solid, even transcendent. So was the concert’s encore, during which opener Sean Lennon (and his band) joined his friend Wainwright for a thoroughly satisfying version of the Beatles’ "Across the Universe," a perfect ending to a star-studded evening.

lkatz@examiner.com

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Leslie Katz

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