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- Tom Waits »
This one felt too big, initially. How do you cope with a Tom Waits concert? The man’s artistic stature looms larger than nearly everyone else over the alternative music scene. He’s a bigger cult than Scientology and his influence on modern pop culture extends beyond music into film and art. The man is his own musical genre for God’s sake.
And how do you cover this particular gig? Seventeen years a’ comin’. One night only. Live on stage. Tickets went on sale at 65 quid a head, and then skyrocketed to prices in the region of £500 on ebay, where they were snapped up by eager suckers with more cash than sense. Thom Yorke’s in the audience! So’s Johnny Depp! So’s Jerry Hall! Oh My God! How could this concert be anything but incredible? Is that Christ I see in the wings?
Okay, shake it off...
I love Tom Waits. It’s all about his voice. It really is. I once heard it said that you could make ninety per cent of all the songs ever written better if you imagine Waits singing them. Judging from the whoops and screams that greet him as he walks on stage and leads off a thundering rendition of 'Hoist That Rag' the contents of the venue agree with me.
We're in the hands of an old pro tonight; Waits is an eye-arresting oddball whose physical presence and stage antics match his music for sheer eccentricity. Between songs we're treated to groan-worthy jokes and left-of-the-dial anecdotes - one of them being a lengthy discourse how the term "dead ringer" comes from an instrument used in ancient Rome to prevent people from being buried alive.
Listening to Waits sing in person is a slightly surreal experience. It almost feels like his voice an extra band member at times. When Waits’s face contorts and his entire body shudders and jerks as he belts out lyrics in his gravely tenor, it almost feels like some otherworldy presence is trying to escape from his lungs. And we’re treated to the entire range of delivery tonight; from the window-rattling bellows of 'Make It Rain', to the sly, sinister rasping of 'Alice' to the heart-breaking trembling warble of 'The Day After Tomorrow'.
Waits’s backing band deserves a few bows as well – in particular Mark Ribot on guitar. Over the course of the evening I watch him strum, pick and bleed brilliance from a section of guitars - electric, acoustic, ukele and at one point an instrument that looks like it was made out of a school ruler and a cereal box – and it’s breathtaking to behold. It has to be said, Waits’s show wouldn’t pack half the wallop it does without Ribot on axe.
Yes, indeedy, Waits and his crew showcased some of the most amazing music these ears have ever heard, and played a hell of a gig. It was everything I ever needed to get me groovin' in my seat. In my seat...
And this is where I differ in opinion from most of the other reviews you'll read about this gig, written by people who are all of the opinion that there were no bad points to the evening's festivities - the half-an-hour delay notwithstanding. And maybe I sound like I'm churlish, or a bad sport, or a contrary bastard, but here's the thing; I don't want to be confined to a chair. I want to be able to dance. I want to be able to move about the venue and get a better vantage point. I want to be able, if the mood grabs me, to go right up to the stage and stare up at the band. And being stuck in a chair on pain of being ejected is not my idea of fun. Especially when I've paid over the odds to get into the venue.
"Come on, dude! It's Tom Waits in concert! You can't put a price on an experience like that!" You're right - not this time - and I wouldn't have traded up for anything. When the dust settles I saw Tom Waits perform a blinder last week, and it was wonderful. But unless he lowers his asking price and plays a non-seated venue on his next visit, I doubt I'll ever see him live in concert again. And on the evidence of his first UK show in over a decade, I'll be fine with that.
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