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- Le Grand Rex, París »
- Tom Waits »
The French love to smoke. Only when I enter and leave the Rex do I remember this. On the way in, it seems everyone has a cigarette on the go. On leaving, a team of well-groomed young men sit outside smoking what I can only guess to be Gitanes on shiny Vespas, all gleaming with signs of waxy care and lavish attention. As the throng of people dissipates, in the neon-tinged gloom where vendors hawk inexpensive and well-made-looking t-shirts, it's hard not to imagine the boys driving off into the night. In my head I see the taillights flicker in the distance, bobbing and weaving, faintly dancing, ‘til they disappear. It's been that kind of an evening.
The crowd itself is chattering, ebullient at having seen a master at work first hand. There are some other words for it, for him, but ‘master’ seems to fit best. Every line sung, very word uttered, seemed to carry weight; but he made it look as though it wasn't a weight at all. Instead it was a privilege, a joy to be given back to us piecemeal. He couldn't have found a better place to perform. The Rex is a beautiful art deco cinema, and the ceiling is a vaulted imitation of a perfect night sky, a deep rich blue, full with unblinking stars.
The stage is set up with Tom Waits dead centre, on a raised platform made of old planks. When he stomps percussion, dusty powder rises, and glitter sparkles. As ringmaster, the whole crowd is held in his hands, quite literally at points: he raises the intensity of applause by raising his own hand, and it is deafening, with a surreal depth and volume to it.
We're treated to other surprises. He puts on a mirrored hat, which is then hit by the spotlights, casting a thousand more stars onto the ceilings and walls. The end of ‘Make It Rain’ brings a shower of glitter down upon Waits, and the audience squeals with delight and wonderment at such tricks. The songs themselves do more, hearts melted by the lovely, lilting sing-along of 'Innocent When You Dream'. The row of seats I'm sitting in sways softly from side to side with the weight of its patrons, and at once we take on the form of a league of cartoon Parisian alley-cats, heads tilting, murmuring away in gentle unison.
We see him as a matchless raconteur this evening, too. Tales of belly-living bullfrogs, a comic telling-off for us when we clap out of time, and a story of spiders being interrupted from their soap operas. They’re all delivered with his easy, trusted charm. On a hot summer night, in a comfortable seat, it's almost like being told a bedtime story. But like kids staying awake to hear how the story ends, the crowd cheers and claps and stomps, whoops and hollers. Without doubt, to the last person, everyone assembled loves Tom Waits.
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