It is so difficult to know where to begin a review of someone like Tom Waits. ‘Someone like Tom Waits’? it’s a little bit like saying someone like Bob Dylan or Nelson Mandela or the Buddha so individual, so great is his persona and charisma. My friend Smiler and I had decided to go for an early departure to Edinburgh and perhaps take in some of the jazz on offer in Princes St. Gardens as part of the Jazz and Blues Festival currently taking place in the capital. We took a stroll down there and saw the end of a set by a New Orleans style jazz band. To be honest most of them were getting on a bit, including the lady dancers, but they certainly didn’t lack any enthusiasm! One had the feeling that if Tom Waits had some time to kill he’d have loved this.
However it was pretty warm and there weren’t too many shaded areas within earshot of the music so we retired to The Guildford Arms at the end of Princes Street before eventually seeking out a curry house for pre-theatre sustainence.
On arriving at the venue we had to produce the credit card on which the tickets were bought and photo id. This was all part of the security measures aimed at the touts. MInd you with booking fees, the tickets were over £100 each anyway. Perhaps Tom didn’t want people to feel that they were entirely escaping the feeling of being ripped off.
The Edinburgh Playhouse is an old theatre and one imagines it is almost unchanged since new. Its out of style Victorian splendour was the ideal setting for what was to come. Admittedly by 8:30, no-show on stage and the place running a temperature akin to an oven pre-heated for baked potatoes, I was getting a little impatient and tetchy. I have read that TW insists on air conditioning being turned off at venues ‘for his voice’ I presume therefore that if the Playhouse does have such a thing we have him to thank for its non operation. The crowd started to slow handclap but of course all was forgiven when Tom and the band eventually took to the stage, Tom bowler hatted and suited on a set which resembled Steptoe’s yard (about twenty bullhorn style speakers adorning the backdrop, Tom stomping in white dust – talc? flour? who knows).
There are various places on the net where you will find set lists for the Glitter and Doom tour but I haven’t found one yet which represents what was performed last night. He must have rehearsed more than fifty songs with his band by my reckoning.
Picture: Tom Waits in Dallas (speedofdark blog)
Most of the songs were done in a very different style from their original recordings, some, like Rain Dogs in a footstomping bawl whilst others were given a laid back treatment (Hang Down Your Head)
The highlights last night, (for me) in no particular order were Rain Dogs, I’ll Shoot the Moon (hilarious choreography going on here), an intimate piano/bass/vocal Invitation to the Blues, Jesus Gonna be Here, Table Top Joe, Hang Down Your Head, Cold Cold Ground – The magnificent “final” number Make It Rain (complete with glitter cascade at the end) and the encores Going Out West and When All the World Was Green.
Boy! did that band work for their money. They were
• Tom Waits: vocals (also some guitar and piano)
• Omar Torrez: guitar
• Larry Taylor: upright bass
• Casey Waits: drums, percussion (Son)
• Patrick Warren: keyboards, accordion
• Vincent Henry: Saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor), harmonica (and guitar!)
and a couple of appearances by Tom’s younger son (Solomon I think) on percussion and sax.
The upright bass player must have been knackered by the end of it all. At one stage Vincent Henry was playing two saxaphones! (at the same time -I kid you not). For much of the set there was not even an electric guitar being played and the dynamics were stunning.
In his little intimate tete a tete with the audience, during which he played Invitation to the Blues and an audience singalong of Innocent When You Dream, Tom gave us some pearls of Wisdom. Having announced that there were some strange laws coming in around the world someone shouted “Eggs and Sausage!” “That’s one of them” said Waits quick as a flash, “you can’t ask for eggs and sausage”. “You can’t even give a chimp a cigarette in Paris any more – everything’s ruined” followed by “Don’t you hate it when someone shows you their cell phone and says it’s also a camera? I mean I don’t boast about my sunglasses also being a tricycle!”
Photo – speedofdark blog.
By the time they had finished the two song encore, Waits and his band had been on stage for two and a half hours. There was an extended plea for another encore but to no avail. Even the absence of numbers like Chocolate Jesus (the megaphone lay unused on the stage), Tom Traubert’s Blues and Misery’s the River of the World he has played on the tour could take away nothing from this performance.
In the car on the way home, Smiler and I tried to categorize Tom Waits.
Is he a vaudeville showman or a narrator and stunt double for Chandler’s Philip Marlowe? is he a lounge jazz pianist and singer who’s had too much bourbon? a gravelly voiced reincarnation of Hoagy Carmichael perhaps? or does he want to be Stan Laurel in Way out West? An extra from Mary Poppins? a Dickensian villain? och! we probably took the whole thing too far but Waits is all of the above and none of the above. He is an entertainer who has one feels stuck to his guns over the years and has reaped the reward of career longevity and critical acclaim.
Last night we witnessed a performer nudging 60 but still at the very top of his game.
This was an utterly fantastic and unique concert which rendered the admission price irrelevant.