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Support Blues in London
Ok, ok, it is a fair way outside London but in lieu of a UK date other than Edinburgh I had to take what it could get. And boy did I get it...
As thrilled as I was to see him perform in London in 2004, the gig itself - overall - was pretty stripped down and focused on Waits' newer material, primarily that of the brutal Real Gone. The piano didn't appear until the encore and only then just pushed onto the side of the stage. It was a fantastic gig, but having secured tickets to the 2008 Glitter and Doom Tour finale in Dublin, I had a feeling that London show was merely an appetiser...
The charmingly named Rat Cellar in Dublin's Phoenix Park sounds like the ideal place for a Waits concert, and so it proved. I was a bit concerned by the 'tent in a field' sounding description before I went but what could I do? It turned out to be a 'big-top' style circus tent with a few amenities outside. Considering the grief involved with getting tickets the security was surprisingly chilled out. You showed your passport along with your ticket and then you were inside. I dare say impostors were dragged off and shot.
Legitimate merchandise was on sale - T-shirts with some of Tom's own oil stain photographs printed on the front. These would be seen on several spaced out looking chaps over the rest of the weekend...
Although it was printed on the tickets, we didn't believe we had front row seats until we were actually sat in them, and these were no press-wrangled luxuries, no Sir, they were a combination of love, luck, and lots and lots of Euros. We couldn't see the back of the stage very well but we had a perfect view of Waits' microphone area, which was centre stage and on one of those platforms performing elephants stand on. There was a piano on the right-hand side and plenty of instruments dotted around a stage decorated with bull horns and siren cones. It was much busier set up than the London 04 show. A tape of old blues and rock n' roll played through a small fender amp by Tom's microphone and people wandered down from other areas to take photos and take it all in – not quite believing where they were!
As the tent filled up the atmosphere turned lively. As a couple of roadies finished the last few tasks, the lights dimmed and out came the band and then Tom himself. At the microphone he paused a moment, rocked on his heels from the sheer volume of the crowd and slowly raised his hands, pushing the cheers to a crescendo. With a stamp of his boot, the band lurched into Lucinda and a cloud of smoke arose around his feet. The best gig in the world was under way...
Like Marmite, Waits' voice and dark romantic vision have a strange effect on the taste buds; people either don't care for it at all or they become his biggest fan and devour everything the man has done with relish. If you love it, then you know what I'm talking about – it’s a hurricane, and seems to come from a hundred feet underground.
The set list was a prefect mix of classic and obscure and included some breathtaking surprises. I'll Shoot The Moon featured some hilarious riffs on the 'please call me baby' section with Waits inviting the crowd to sing along to his imaginary touch-tone phone; Other Side of The World was achingly beautiful; Falling Down reminded us all what a joke Scarlett Johanson's recent effort was. By this time he was already sweating profusely through his jacket and waistcoat and the stains on his back looked like wings.
When he shifted to the piano, I was worried I wouldn't be able to see but fortunately his head poked up just high enough. Then we got it - a double hit of Tom Traubert's Blues followed by Heart of Saturday Night, each of which got standing ovations.
Thanks to anonymous YouTubers here's it is in fabulous Internet Video...
The set continued with the haunting Lost In The Harbour with Tom on a tiny pump organ, than back to the piano for House Where Nobody Lives. Then we got Innocent When You Dream, where Tom enchanted the crowd and played until we were all singing along. Another standing ovation!
The reworked Hoist that Rag paled by comparison to the 2004 version which opened the 2004 London show, losing most of its fury and embracing the Cuban jazz feel instead, but this was already a very different show so it's not like I'm complaining… Sullivan Waits played on the congas just in front of where we were sat and half way through the head of his drum mallet fell off. He pulled a spare form his back pocket without missing a beat and smiled to himself.
For Cemetery Polka Tom mixed up the lyrics, repeating part of a verse until he quipped something like 'How many more times? Jesus Christ...' It was a rare crack in the façade and he looked a little annoyed with himself – but only for a second and it didn't break the spell. After that, Green Grass and Long Way Home seemed so delicate it was as if they might break apart at any moment. My sources tell me these last two were not played at any of the US gigs and I think Long Way Home was only played that night in Dublin. What a treat!
Eyeball Kid was possibly the most awesome performance of the night. The hilarious intro had him throwing an imaginary glass eye around the room, bouncing it on the floor and snapping it back as if it was on elastic, all while the band made cartoon sound effects. It was bizarre but this was a Tom Waits gig... As he reeled of the corny jokes and story of the freaky Eyeball Kid he donned a special mirror-ball hat that shone out into the crowd and made the ceiling look like it was covered in stars. They danced as he shook his head and the band shifted from the angular rhythm to a sweeeeeeeeet bluesy roll and back again.
Nearing the finale, he tore through Goin' Out West and God's Away On Business before the epic Make It Rain. It has developed from the stark blues of Real Gone and once he'd introduced the band to rapturous applause he made the whole place go crazy, repeating 'make it rain' over and over, shaking the notes from his sweat-soaked body. By the time the glitter fell, settling on the stage and brim of his hat, the aisles were full and the burly security guards were trying to keep back the crowd from the front of the stage and squashing us. As Waits stooped to throw glitter over the edge of the stage I put my hand up - He looked at me and bent down to shake it. He then made his way right along the stage and off. The place continued to go mental.
Here's my actual hand being shook...
And yet we were barely done! For the first encore we got an absolute monster 16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six. Here Tom made use of the percussion at his feet - a large bell and a big bass drum. Then the 'Disneyfied' Heigh-Ho from Orphans and a fantastic version of Dirt In The Ground.
After much hysterical clamouring Tom emerged for a second encore. The heavy funk of Metropolitan Glide kept us on the boil then things ended perfectly on the final song as Waits sang to the Crowd: “Don’t cry for me cause I’m going away/ I’ll be back some lucky day”
Two and half magical hours; the best gig I’ll ever see.
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