Monday, June 23, 2008


Hero of the week: Tom Waits

*Spoiler: This man can do no wrong in my eyes.

Last night I saw the spectacle that is Tom Waits for the second time, the first being in Chicago two years ago. It is rare that I will pay 20 dollars to see a show much less 100, but Tom Waits, in my hometown, on my birthday, 4th row! This show was set up for disappointment. I had shakes and jitters for weeks leading up to this night as well as text messages and e-mails every other day: Waits in 2 weeks or You remember when we bought those Waits tickets? It took a steady stream of whiskey to calm my pre-show nerves, but once the show started with Lucinda I sat back and watched events unfold, entranced along with the rest of the Jones Hall crowd.

The whole day was a strange experience, downtown completely empty save the Tom Waits fans that packed every open bar, giving life to what it would be like to live in a town populated entirely by Waits fans, but built by over-gentrifying urban planners. Inside the theater an eclectic crowd lingered in the lobby, the lines for the many bars only bested by the lines for the t-shirts (photos of oil stains that Waits took) and posters (Glitter and Doom). There were punks, hipsters, and executives, young and old, rich and poor. On one walk through the crowd, I ran into Honus Honus of Man Man fame as well as Michael Zilkha of Zilkha Hall fame.

Once the show began, the crowd was silent. He stamped his way through a few of his newer tunes before getting to a very stark guitar performance of The Day After Tomorrow, the same song that really blew me away at the Chicago show a couple of years ago. It is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, as well as being atop my list of favorite antiwar songs. He alternated between a couple of guitars, maracas, and that incredible voice during most of the show, staying close to his recent career (90s and 00s, from Bone Machine on). At one point he sent the band away and kept the bass player for a short piano lounge act that was simply incredible, reaching all the way back to Tom Traubert's Blues and a spartan House Where Nobody Lives before the band slowly joined him during, and this was amazing, Innocent When You Dream.

He then stomped out a few more 'brawlers' with such ferocity that it would have been difficult to imagine it was the same guy that had just tearfully manned the piano had I not been sitting so close. There was a long version of The Eyeball Kid which led to him changing out of his gray bowler hat that matched his three piece suit, drenched in sweat by this point, into a bowler hat covered in a mosaic of broken mirrors. The lights dimmed except a spotlight on his head as he spun like a human disco ball reflecting onto the walls and ceiling, presumably, the constellation hydra that helped him to plan his tour.

There was a jazzed up Murder in the Red Barn, a steady Get Behind the Mule, and a self-admittedly rare Dirt in the Ground. The highlights for me were Jesus Gonna Be Here Soon, Innocent When You Dream, and Come on up to the House. If you have not ever seen Mr. Waits, and enjoy music, this tour is not to be missed.

The set list:

Down in the Hole
Falling Down
Dead and Lovely
Lie to Me
Day After Tomorrow
Hoist that Rag
Get Behind the Mule
Cemetary Polka
Trampled Rose
Jesus Gonna Be Here
Lucky Day
Tom Traubert’s Blues
House Where Nobody Lives
Innocent when you dream
Make it Rain
Murder in the Red Barn
Come on up to the House
Dirt in the Ground
Eyeball Kid

Goin’ Out West
All the World is Green

My main disappointment was watching that megaphone sitting idly next to him and not getting Chocolate Jesus*. He avoided all his old Small Change era material (except Traubert's) which I love. And an hilarious criticism: My parents, who were sitting about 30 rows behind me, said they didn't think it was loud or crazy enough for them. The crowd treated the whole show like the piano lounge act (which was my favorite part), sitting calmly and clapping after songs. Jones Hall has nothing on the opulent Auditorium Theater in Chicago,but from 4 rows away it sure looked and sounded good. And maybe they were just getting used to each other, but I greatly preferred the last guitar player, Duke Robillard to Omar Torrez, though that flamenco intro was pretty amazing. Vincent Henry, on horns and everything else, was amazing.

*The links to songs are all from the show except Chocolate Jesus, which is from Letterman.

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