Friday, June 27, 2008

Glitter & Doom 2008


Yesterday, Brandon and I hit the open road, heading east to St. Louis to witness the spectacle that is Tom Waits. Jimmy Erlinger was kind enough to supply us with room and board during our 24 hour duration. Beforehand, we three--and his friends, Mike and Curren [sic, I'm quite sure]--stopped by Blueberry Hill for the single worst cheeseburger I've ever had. They were then kind enough to drop us off at the Fox Theater.

I'd never been around any other Rain Dogs before, particularly in a capacity such as this. Sure, I have several friends who are casual Tom Waits fans, but not to the extent that I've been over the past fifteen years. I've never felt such energy in the moments leading up to an event before. Because you can only describe this as an "event."

Further reading from The St. Louis Dispatch:

The stage at the Fox Theatre on Thursday night looked like some dusty, forgotten music room in an antiques store. Odd and old instruments stood and sat about, waiting for someone to throw them together into a performance.

Good thing Tom Waits showed up. Waits — one of pop music’s most unorthodox, indescribable and poignant singer-songwriters — played in St. Louis for the first time in about 30 years.

And he nailed it.

Playing more than 20 songs in two hours, the gravel-voiced Waits serenaded, assaulted, charmed and amused the crowd with selections covering the last 25 or so years of his 35-year career.

Defining Tom Waits, on almost any level, is far tougher than herding big cats.

His music could be called jazz-rock-folk-R&B-blues. But that leaves out the gospel, country, heavy-metal and classical influences. In fact, even "jazz" is vague, because his tunes can stir up hints of Dixieland, ragtime, big-band, bebop and improvisational avant-garde.

Saying he’s a musician leaves out a chunk of the puzzle. He has been in more than 20 films ("Down By Law," "Mystery Men," Francis Ford Coppola’s "Dracula").

And that voice? Local music critic Daniel Durchholz once wrote that Waits' voice sounds "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months and then taken outside and run over with a car."

Even though he has won two Grammys, Waits has never had a chart hit. A few of his tunes were popularized by far more, well, popular acts: "Downtown Train" by Rod Stewart; "Ol’ 55" by the Eagles; and "Jersey Girl" by Bruce Springsteen.

But all those things, mashed together like one of his songs featuring whistles, washboards, congas and a school bell is why Waits has developed such a dedicated following. (We’d say cult, but Waits, I imagine, would be highly agitated thinking that people viewed his works and anything near religious.)

Waits opened with "Lucinda" from his latest album "Orphans." But he seriously grabbed his audience with his second number, "Way Down in the Hole," which has gotten some well-deserved exposure as the theme song to HBO’s "The Wire" series.

With little pause between tunes, Waits stood alone at a microphone and growled out several more numbers until he strapped on an electric guitar and offered a blistering version of "Get Behind The Mule," which may have been the best song of the night.

But leave it to Waits to throw things into a completely unexpected gear. After kicking the audience into overdrive, he then sang "Day After Tomorrow," a slow, haunting ballad about a soldier waiting to come home.

"Day After Tomorrow" points out Waits’ strongest suit as a singer-songwriter — the searing personal side he infuses into his music. While this song is surely an anti-war ballad, what lingers in a listener’s mind is not the politics of the situation but the loneliness and fear of the young man at war.

Waits took the gear change to move behind the piano and play some slow-tempo selections, the best being a sweet rendition of the short (less than two minutes) song, "Johnsburg, Illinois."

During this portion, Waits spun a few yarns and drew the biggest laughs with his story about his "E-bay" addiction.

"I recently bought the last dying breath of Henry Ford," Waits said. "It’s in a Coke bottle with a cork in it. It’s sealed real tight."

"Think about it. How many of those are there?"

Just as the relaxed lounge-singer vibe had settled in, Waits returned to his electric guitar and pounded out a hard-rocking version of "Make It Rain," another highlight of the evening along with the menacing "16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six" several songs later.

Waits’ encore started with the charging "Goin’ Out West" but then slowly mellowed to the melancholy "Innocent When You Dream," in which Waits invited the audience to join in singing along the final refrain.

"It’s such a sad old feeling, the fields are soft and green / It’s memories that I’m stealing, but you’re innocent when you dream."

Sweet dreams, indeed.

I was also kind enough to text message each song to Jeff, as it happened. He does a similar thing to me whenever he goes to see Rush. Just not to the capacity that I did:

Lucinda
Way Down in the Hole
Falling Down
Black Market Baby
All The World Is Green
Heigh-Ho
Get Behind The Mule
Day After Tomorrow
Cemetery Polka
Hang Down Your Head
Lucky Day
Johnsburg, Illinois
Lost In The Harbour
Make It Rain
Lie To Me
The Other Side Of The World
Singapore
Dirt In The Ground
What’s He Building In There?
16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six
Rain Dogs

ENCORE
Goin’ Out West
Anywhere I Lay My Head
Innocent When You Dream

4 Comments:

Blogger Steaming bowl o' Calderone said...

I have to admit that I've never "gotten" Tom Waits. I have enjoyed the occasional song, but he's been nothing more than a passing casual musical interest. After reading this post and review, however, I feel like I'm missing out on something. I want the Tom Waits experience through the eyes and ears of Mark Teel. What do you say Mark? Feel like compiling a cd for me - perhaps something along the lines of Mark Teel's quintessential Tom Waits?

28 June, 2008  
Blogger Mark Teel said...

Funny thing, Pete, is that is IS more of an experience than just listening to music. Going in there, I knew what to expect and loved every minute of it. But I knew what to expect in the sense of, say, knowing what a circus is like before ever actually seeing one. I would say it's the best "concert" I've ever seen, but it really wasn't a "concert" as much as it was an "event," for lack of a better term.

After it was over, Brandon was saying how he wasn't quite sure what just happened to him. He enjoyed the music, but felt like he hadn't quite "rocked out" or "chilled out," like at a "regular" concert. He liked it and, being a "casual" listener of the music, it's taken him to the next plane of curiousity. It's also a scenario where, the more he thinks about it, the more he likes what he saw.

So, yeah, I feel like to truly "get" Tom Waits, you must witness him live. It's all about the showmanship in the truest sense of the word. And a big part of the show is the stories that he tells between the songs. A very likeable person. And a true gentleman

Yes, I will absolutely make you a mix. Seeing as how I've always been a bit intimidated by the idea of learning a musical instrument, mixed tapes are what I have to contribute to this particular artform. I'll have it for the next time we see one another. Glad you asked.

28 June, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I must say, I sure have missed your blog. It's been a while since I've visited and how pleased I was to finally get back in the groove and see a post for your "boyfriend weekend" in St.L. You know how much I enjoy Tom Waits...what a hottie! ;-P

Can't wait to see what comes next...Paige

01 July, 2008  
Anonymous 'sawblade said...

Yo Pete, Mark made me a TW mix a few years ago and it was quite good - so perhaps, Mark, you can just burn him the same disc you made for me.

I am too much more of a casual TW listener - I'll throw Rain Dogs in on occassion - but I would've loved to have seen the show if mostly because he's a storied performer who rarely performs anymore.

(Hey, I was able to post this without my computer PC kicking me off line as it's been doing for the past few months ... stupid corporate firewalls....)

03 July, 2008  

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