He may look the epitome of American hipness, wearing stovepipe jeans, Converse All-Stars and a designer dress jacket. But looking at the booklet from his new CD, “Release the Stars,” cabaret-classy crooner Rufus Wainwright (who plays San Francisco on Friday) tells a much more Teutonic tale. There are close-up photos of the Pergamon Altar from its museum in Berlin and candid shots of the artist himself sporting traditional “R.W.”-embroidered lederhosen and matching knee socks.
This Canadian-bred artist may reside in Manhattan, but his heart belongs to Germany.
It wasn’t intentional. Wainwright, 34, had begun recording “Stars” last spring in Brooklyn, with “a very toned-down, black-and-white, bare-bones kind of sound,” he says.
He wanted to get away from the orchestras and multi-part harmonies from past classics like 2001’s “Poses” and his recent “Want One” and “Want Two” companion volumes.
“But when Imoved to Berlin for the summer, because my boyfriend Jorn lived there, all of a sudden — instead of getting a cool haircut and hanging with the East German low crowd — I was hit by this furious wave of German romanticism and classical prowess” he says. “I ended up visiting Weimar, baroque houses, and yes, I actually wore the little lederhosen. And all my childhood fantasies of this fairy tale Europe kind of reared their ugly heads. I even stayed in a hotel where Hitler stayed, just for giggles.”
Wainwright couldn’t speak fluent German — still can’t. But his visit was anything but Grimm.
One of the funnier moments, he says, was hanging out with Eva Wagner, of the Wagner family. “She’s in her 50s, very beautiful and very serious, just a wonderful woman. And we were talking about music when she turned to me and said, ‘My pants are falling off!’ So, uh, that was pretty odd. So this record was very influenced by German romanticism.”
The most memorable new “Stars” cut is the European-flavored, chorale-backed “Tiergarten.” The rest follows panoramic “Wings of Desire” suit, including “Going to a Town,” where Wainwright declares “I’m so tired of you, America.” But he adds, “I have no intention of leaving America. I still love New York City, and now that my boyfriend has arrived from Europe, I’m not going anywhere.”
Wainwright — the son of famed folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle — still has unfinished business here, like an opera called “Prima Donna” he’s composing for the Metropolitan. Then there’s his summer tour, which culminates in a September Hollywood Bowl gig, which will recreate his favorite Judy Garland concert from 1961 (which already has been recorded at its original Carnegie Hall venue for a simultaneous Geffen release).
After the horror of 9/11, he explains, Garland’s masterpiece “was the only album that I put on that would make me feel better — I was immediately uplifted and filled with hope, so I wanted to spread that vibe around …. As I’m singing these horribly unpatriotic songs like ‘Going to a Town” at the same time … [It’s] kind of like stabbing you with the one hand and patting you on the back with the other!”
Where: Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $32.50 to 42.50
Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com