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Music to mope by...

Posted by dj on October 19, 1999, at 23:37:12

Actually Tom Waits often brings a smile to my face as he is doing right now, though some find his music too much. Many of his songs & poems deal with the glitter in the gutter. For those of you who aren't familiar with him the following write-up from a concert a couple of nights ago, whiich I would dearly have loved to be at, will give you a bit of his flavour.

Tom Waits avoids the straight and narrow

John Mackie Vancouver Sun

Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun / THEATRICS: His tours
come rarely, but Tom Waits knows how to perform.


Sunday at the Orpheum.

In the middle of Tom Waits' show at the Orpheum, he paused to tell a story about a couple of trees. One tree grew straight and tall,while the other grew crooked and small. And the straight tree endlessly
mocked its crooked neighbour for its physical limitations.

Then one day some loggers arrived. Perusing the forest, they decided to "selectively" log all the tall, straight trees. So the bigfellow met his maker, while the crooked tree was allowed to remain and
flourish, growing crooked and strange.

The story makes a nice analogy for Tom Waits' career. There are dozens of singers who have had bigger hits in the quarter-century since Waits arrived on the music scene, but most of their careers
flamed out years ago. Meanwhile, old Tom just ambles along on his own crooked little path, quietly building up one of the most devoted followings in music.

More than 2,700 of the faithful turned out for his Sunday show, his first Vancouver gig in many moons. The $80 tickets sold out in 17 minutes, and there were a couple of hundred fans lined up outside
hoping that more would be released. One scalper was asking $500 for a front-row seat. (Maybe they sold it to X-Files producer Chris Carter, who was in the middle of row one.)

The lucky ones who got inside were treated to a 21/2-hour concert that was nothing short of dazzling. Waits doesn't tour much but when he does, he really puts on a show -- in the theatrical as well as the musical sense.

He made a grand entrance from the back of the audience, walking up the aisle while screaming through a bullhorn and flinging sparkly
confetti in the air. Mounting the stage, he launched into the demented cabaret of The Black Rider, lurching about like a singing Quasimodo and
bringing new meaning to the word "dance."

His voice has always been gravelly, but as he's aged (he turns 50 on Dec. 7), it's gotten deeper and darker and even raspier. On the
raucous numbers, he didn't sing so much as howl like a werewolf with a hot foot, or rumble like Popeye's nemesis Bluto after a few drinks. Let him loose on a bizarre little number like Eyeball Kid (about a circus sideshow freak) and he'll blow the roof off.

But he balances his experimental side and dissonance with a fine melodic sense and a knack for writing achingly beautiful ballads. The heart of the show was a five-song mini-set in which he sat
down at the piano to croon ballads like Hang Down Your Head, The House Where Nobody Lives and Picture In a Frame, and his renditions of Jersey Girl, Shoot the Moon and Cold, Cold Ground
elsewhere in the set were just as stirring.

One of the fixtures of a Waits concert is his in-between song raps, which are completely out there and are delivered with a comic's sense of timing. But then, his lyrics are just as imaginative. Who
else could come up with a song like What's He Building in There?, a hilarious spoken-word piece about every suburbanite's nightmare -- a mysterious guy next door who lets his lawn die and is building
something weird in his garage.

What's He Building was definitely one of the highlights, along with a very moving take of Who Are You (which Waits introduced as "a love song - somewhat"). But the unexpected climax had to be
Innocent When You Dream, which prompted a spontaneous standing ovation, a reprise of the chorus (like Roy Orbison used to do live with Crying) and mass audience participation. You've never
seen so many cool people singing along in your life.




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