For locals and holiday season visitors, seeing Rufus Wainwright’s Christmas week show in Aspen has become an annual tradition.
For Wainwright, who returns to Belly Up on Thursday, hitting the right notes at the shows has been less of a challenge than keeping up with his husband, Jörn Weisbrodt, on the slopes of Aspen Mountain.
“He’s an avid skier and when a German is an avid skier it’s one notch above everyone else,” Wainwright said from a tour stop in Scotland. “It’s really in his blood. He grew up skiing in the Alps. I would call myself an avid skier as well, but I’m more like a Canadian-American avid skier, which means I know how to do it.”
The pair, married in Long Island this summer, have been coming to Aspen since soon after they met in 2005, with Wainwright regularly playing Belly Up.
“What’s great about the town is, yes, it’s really rich and crazy and all of that, but there still seems to be some kind of funky or laid back and approachable aspect to it. People really let their guard down, so you just feel comfortable there.”
As a singer-songwriter, Wainwright is often compared to the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, having penned modern classics like “Poses,” “Going to a Town” and “Gay Messiah.” He writes incisive songs, by turns bitingly witty and crushingly sad.
Since his self-titled 1998 debut, Wainwright has earned a place among the most respected and well-loved singer-songwriters in the world. During that time, of course, the music industry experienced a systemic shift for solo vocalists like Wainwright, with many of them winning fans and record deals through television competitions like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
Wainwright, who broke out in the traditional manner of touring and recording, said the reality show trend is degrading for artists.
“The minute any of those shows are on I immediately start vomiting and shitting and bleeding,” he laughed. “It’s not even that I’m against. I just find it embarrassing. It’s demeaning, I think. It’s like ‘The Gong Show’ but somehow where they sell records. I just can’t handle it.”
For much of this year, he’s been touring in support of his May-released seventh album, “Out of the Game.” It returns Wainwright, 39, to the pop sound of some of his earlier work. It comes after his 2010 album, “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu,” a suite of songs meditating on the death of his mother, Kate McGarrigle.
For the new material, he said, he made a conscious effort to put together more upbeat arrangements.
“It was necessary that this next album be a celebration of life,” he said. “It’s funny though, sometimes people say, ‘Rufus, you write these romantic, luscious, ethereal songs.’ But, really, in the end I’m kind of a big ham.”
His Aspen show is a solo effort, with Wainwright alone on piano and guitar, without the band that’s backed him on this year’s tour in the states and Europe.
“It is an upbeat and exhilarating experience,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Is he going to hit that note? I’m not sure. Oh, there, he did it.’ It’s kind of like skiing a little bit.”
The Aspen show — along with supplementing his holiday ski vacation — is the first of a series of solo outings in Europe, Asia and South America.
“It’s kind of the inauguration of the next stage of my career,” he said. “This is the first solo show of many, many in the coming months. So I want to say it’s a starting line for something new.”
And Belly Up, he said, is an ideal place to kick it off.
“I think it’s one of the great clubs of America,” he said. “There’s very few places, even in major cities like New York and L.A., where you can go and do a show and it can be intimate but glamorous at the same time and it’s kind of not a big deal, either. There’s something about that room that’s very welcoming and fun.”