After a stressful weekend of family difficulties (my apologies for pulling out of the Dalriada gig on Saturday, but it was necessary), it was a relief to get out to the Playhouse for the first of Tom Waits’ two shows in town, his only UK dates.
From the ‘tour brochure’ – a small booklet on rough brown paper containing an interview with Waits by … Tom Waits, to the stage set, with contraptions a-plenty, including speaker cones of all shapes and sizes hung from scaffolds and a tilted circular frame suspended above the drum-like dias on which Waits would stand, attention to theatrical detail was everywhere. Unfortunately we were treated to one of the most frustrating ‘roadie cabarets’ ever – half an hour after start time, black T-shirted guys were still occasionally wandering in ones and twos around the stage. About 35-40 minutes late, Waits took the stage, preening, doffing his bowler hat and orchestrating the applause; he used powerful stage control techniques to banish the frustration and get everyone on his side before beginning the first song with a yelp and a stamp of his foot, raising clouds of dust from the dias. The most exciting moment of the show was the first roar of that voice, like a wounded lion, as his fists flailed the air. The set was drawn mostly from recent albums, and I didn’t know a lot of the songs; whether the vocal mics were poor or whether it’s just an impossible job to reduce Waits to vowels and consonants, it was hard to distinguish lyrics at any time. The front row must have been stunned by every plosive. There were essentially three types of song – the full-on Waits stomp (Jesus Gonna Be Here), the cracked oompah cabaret (Raindogs) and a short set of piano / string bass songs including a touching singalong of Innocent When You Dream that took me back to childhood listening to my parents and their friends singing songs that were old even to them. The band consisted of a drummer/percussionist, string bass, hammond/piano, wind player (who spent much of the night with two saxes in his mouth) and a guitarist who graced two songs with a staggering display of flamenco skill. The second encore, for which the audience had clapped and stomped for five minutes, never happened and the house lights came on unexpectedly at 10:50 – perhaps the late running of the show had forced them to curtail it. This was the first time I’ve seen Waits live and it showed the breadth of his unique vision and talent. Can’t wait for the DVD. (In the meantime there’s YouTube)