Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk: Rufus at the Paramount


There was construction blocking the sidewalk for the last block on Aurora between the 358 stop and Canlis. So I ducked past the Caution tape and picked my way through it in kitten heels, arriving at what may just be the fancy-schmanciest restaurant in the city. Our sake cups of butternut squash soup and crab salads were filling our very content tummies a little early with Rufus Wainwright scheduled to take the Paramount stage at 8 with no opener.

It's worth mentioning before I get to the show that while I've never been very picky, there are only a few truly spectacular gastronomic moments that stay seared a medium rare in my memory--a high-end southwestern joint in Tucson, a mansion in Savannah, Canlis definitely made the list. Anywho, as we got into dessert, we started sharing Rufus stories--everyone has at least one. One had seen him in the early days of mind-addled Crocodile performances. Another crashed into his entourage on Broadway one morning. Everyone has at least one tale of romance and heartbreak with a Rufus soundtrack.

For myself, my first live show was at a park outside Chicago last summer. There were two openers, he was backed by a large band, and wearing the monogrammed lederhosen. His music accompanied me on long drives through the New Mexico desert as part of a previous job, so he's always had a special place in my heart, but lederhosen? My first thought was "what an ass." And then he started singing.

Rufus Wainwright is pompous, self-absorbed, possibly not altogether sane, and a little ridiculous. But he's incredibly talented, so I hereby declare that if you can write, and sing, and play and perform at that caliber, you can be arrogant to the point of absurdity too. Even better, he loves his audience as much as he loves himself. He doesn't pull the stunts of other songwriting phenomenons (Bjork stomping off the stage after 45 minutes, waiting at the Gorge for nearly a half hour for Dave Matthews to come out for an encore). He plays songs he knows we love, and at the end he pops right back out for a few more numbers.

His show last night was a lot of older stuff, the kind of thing you remember listening to on that drive you were committed to taking across the country with an old boyfriend a couple of months after you broke up and had nothing left to say to each other. There were a couple of moments when, you know, my nostalgia allergy resulted in watery eyes. But then he would stop after his voice cracked and apologize or groan a little at some of his own show-off piano work (it's easy to forget that he's profoundly talented, he treats it so lightly. One of my personal favorites is Little Sister, a lovely ditty about his many female siblings that he sings over a series of piano exercises.) He doesn't dwell on his politically-tinged banter, making it all kind of a lark, not annoying. And of course, he's dead sexy.

It was all a sort of exercise in heartbreaking optimism, without becoming too overwrought. Rufus closed with fan favorite Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk and I headed home, feeling total satisfaction, wiping that one last remnant of smiling, sadness-tinged memory from my eye.

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