I started listening to Tom Waits religiously about fifteen years ago. A friend played “Fumblin’ With The Blues” for me, and I was instantly addicted. It’s still one of my favorite songs ever. That whole album, The Heart of Saturday Night, means so much to me — it’s attached to so many memories, and the overall story is so weirdly lovely.
Funnily, it turned out that I had actually become hooked several years earlier, when I was living in Russia, but I didn’t find out that it was Tom Waits until google eventually turned up.
His music has changed so dramatically over the 35-ish years that he’s been writing/recording, I wasn’t sure exactly how last night’s show was going to work. How does one person perform a song like “Please Call Me Baby,” and follow it up with something like “Filipino Box Spring Hog?” They’re incompatible.
The answer turned out to be simple. For the more… eclectic songs, he stood in the middle of a raised platform with a microphone and swayed and twiched and stamped weirdly, exactly like every crazy old man you’ve ever seen feeding ducks and talking to an invisible friend, if that crazy person happened to be an obscenely talented genius.
For the traditional songs, he picked up a guitar or sat at a piano, and played and sang his heart out. (I know neither of them is actually a guitar or piano, since he’s notorious for using outlandish instruments, but I don’t know enough about musical instruments to identify, like, a harpsichord, by sight). At one point, he even played what I’m almost positive, from the distinctive sound, was an honest-to-god old fashioned calliope.
His speaking voice is just as bizarre as it sounds in the movies, if you’ve ever seen him in anything. And he chatted us up, told stories and anecdotes, but also replied to people yelling things in the audience, which I’ve never seen before. It was great being in such a small venue.
Speaking of that, he’s also the first person I’ve heard share my dislike of the acoustics in the Fox. It’s supposed to be virtually perfect, but from the front of the stage, everything feeds back and echos weirdly. It was driving him as nuts as it does me, and he kept going “whoooooooooooooo” and laughing about how bizarrely the sound bounced around. Which is gratifying. Anyway.
After listening to his music for so many years, and never having seen him, I was afraid that I might have waited too long. Worried that, since he doesn’t sing the traditional songs so much anymore, he wouldn’t be able to really sing anymore. In the same way that Billie Holiday eventually couldn’t, but it was absolutely beautiful. I mean, his voice is certainly distinctive and rough, but it didn’t sound damaged at all.
I’m awestruck and blown away, and so happy. And I’ll shut up now. Go see him if you can get tickets. He’s amazing.
p.s. As I mentioned before, I’ve had a pseudonymous blog for a while, at a domain named for a line in one of his songs. And he played it last night. And now I’m soooo tempted to move this blog back over there…