Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tom Waits

I got to see Tom Waits play in St. Louis on Thursday, June 26th, 2008. I was seated just far enough away that I couldn't make out the details of his face, but I could see him just fine. Even more importantly, I could hear him.

It was awesome.

The show opened with Tom standing on a small riser, only about 5'x5'. The main limelight shined down on him while the rest of the stage was dark. He started singing Lucinda, from the Orphans album, as the lights came up on the rest of the band. Then he would lift his leg up in air and STOMP down on the riser, causing a puff of dust to rise. STOMP again! The dust would surround him and float away.

The musicians were all consummate professionals. One man for horns (many, many horns), an upright base player, a keyboardist (except when Tom played the piano), and, of course, Casey Waits on percussion. The show was very well rehearsed, and all the songs were played completely differently than they are on the albums. And they were BETTER!

How often does it happen, where a musician plays your favorite song live, completely different from the way you know it, and you actually like it more? For me, not often. But seriously, Get Behind the Mule was far and away the best song of the night, and it was swinging, like Waits was channeling Buddy Holly. Turns out the reviewer in agrees with me on Get Behind the Mule being the best.

His cover of Way Down in a Hole was second best, I think, and so strange from the album version, I didn't even realize what song it was until well into it. The venue, the Fabulous Fox Theatre, was gorgeous, and it was the first time I had ever been there.

At one point I was just sitting there, barely able to contain myself, thinking man, I am sitting in a room watching Tom Waits put on an amazing show. I've been waiting for about 14 years for this. In fact, it was 14 years ago that Damian introduced me to Tom Waits. The greatest thing about this concert? Damian was there too, with Kate, just married, all the way from North Kakalaka!

The cover of 16 Shells from a 30-06 was good, and you know it would be, with all the crazy percussion needed. Tom would step over to the corner of his soapbox and kick down on a drum pedal with a hard mallet that would connect with a brake drum, or something, to make one of the bell sounds. So cool.

Oh man, the very last song he covered, the last song of the encore, with Tom at the piano, was Innocent when you Dream. After he sang the first verse, he said "Sing with me!" The whole theater was singing along. Tom was like "That's really beautiful." It was.

The set list was (in case that article goes away some day):

1. "Lucinda" ("Orphans")
2. "Way Down in the Hole" ("Frank’s Wild Years)
3. "Falling Down" ("Big Time")
4. "Black Market Baby" ("Mule Variations")
5. "All The World Is Green" ("Blood Money")
6. "Heigh-Ho" (Orphans")
7. "Get Behind The Mule" ("Mule Variations")
8. "Day After Tomorrow" ("Real Gone")
9. "Cemetery Polka" ("Rain Dogs")
10. "Hang Down Your Head" (Rain Dogs")
11. "Lucky Day" ("Black Rider")
12. "Johnsburg, Illinois" (Swordfishtrombones")
13. "Lost In The Harbour ("Alice" soundtrack)
14. "Make It Rain ("Real Gone")
15. "Lie To Me" (Orphans)
16. "The Other Side Of The World" (Night On Earth" soundtrack)
17. "Singapore ("Rain Dogs")
18. "Dirt In The Ground" (Bone Machine")
19. "What’s He Building In There?" ("Mule Variations")
20. "16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six ("Swordfishtrombones")
21. "Rain Dog" ("Rain Dogs")


22. "Goin’ Out West" ("Bone Machine")
23. "Anywhere I Lay My Head" ("Rain Dogs")
24. "Innocent When You Dream" ("Frank’s Wild Years")


skmckinn said...

"Way Down in a Hole" and "Innocent When You Dream" aren't covers, are they?

I liked the fact that he put "Heigh-ho" and "Get Behind the Mule" together--making fun of us work-a-day grunts? Or grunting out his own work, working his day?

He did alot of the crowd-pleaser stomping chants at the beginning and reminded me oddly of Michael Stipe--maybe just the bald puppet thing. I didn't like these songs as much as I do on the albums; his midrange growl didn't translate to the stage, leaving us only the roar and the freaky falsetto, and he stayed mostly in the former. They all bled together, and he didn't seem entirely comefortable as a "front man." It was enough to make me anxiously wonder if he would ever speak to us or sit down to/pick up an instrument. He did both of those things, of course. And things improved.

Here was the one big revelation, though: *He's* about his ballads. I usually kind of skip them on the records. I dig the carnivals and sailor stories, and I tend to think songs like "Downtown Train" and "All the World is Green" are sappy and boring. But when he sat down at the piano and the other musicians dropped out, it was obvious that he was in his element, and the songs sounded much more like themselves. I realized "oh shit, yeah--this is how he started out, really. This is who he is." It was weird when "Day After Tomorrow," a song I usually skip, brought me to tears. I'm sure it had something to do with Iraq and the double-sized bourbon and gingers the bartender gave me.

Digitizdat said...

No, sorry, I didn't mean "cover" like that. They're definitely his. Ugh, ambiguous usage. Sorry.

Wasn't it 16 Shells that he mixed in with another song? Though I didn't know it was Heigh-Ho (I don't know the actual name of any given song on any album after 2000), it was indeed sweet, and unexpected.

Oh wow, I forgot to mention those bourbon and gingers... those were big time.