Monday, 28 July 2008

Tom Waits

Grand Rex, Paris, Friday 25 July 2008


The most expensive concert ticket I've ever bought turned out to be worth every euro. The Grand Rex is a stunning 1930s art deco cinema that seats just under 3,000. Design features include palm trees, a rich blue ceiling dotted with glimmering stars and a balcony that looks like a fort in the Sahara. Tom Waits fits this theatrical decor perfectly and it was wonderful to return to Paris eight years after I first saw Tom here (especially since this time I was in the seventh row rather than the balcony).

The set list largely avoided the 70s and early-80s recordings although Tom Traubert's Blues, played on piano, satisfied nostalgics I'm sure. Highlights for me were Real Gone's shout'n'clankers, Hoist That Rag and Make It Rain; Poor Edward, the tragic ballad from Alice about the unfortunate boy who "on the back of his head had another face... it was his devil twin" and Tom's menacing take on Heigh-Ho. Disney tried to sue Waits for changing the lyrics to the Seven Dwarfs marching song and although it sounds nothing like what's in Snow White (it's more Demented than Dopey) the words are identical.


Songs aside, what's always most incredible about Tom Waits' shows are their theatricality. This man can milk a crowd and we happily lapped up his stomping, exaggerated bows and weird hand gestures. And then, of course, there is that voice. Earlier in the day my friend Ed, a fair-weather Tom Waits fan, told me he'd often thought the voice he'd heard on record was a production trick. What initially hit me the first time I saw Waits was how powerful and varied his voice is. As my friend Dave said, after sitting next to me, transfixed for more than two hours, "It doesn't sound like it should come from a human".

Also worth noting is Tom's excellent band which features his eldest son on percussion and this evening his youngest lad on "assistant clarinet and saxophone". I think it's the first time I've ever seen a sax on stage with Waits and many of the arrangements of familiar songs were quite different from what I'd previously heard.

If you want to hear what all the fuss is about, or re-live the experience if you've been lucky enough to see any of the Glitter & Doom tour, NPR are streaming and podcasting the 5 July Atlanta gig in full.

Related posts

Waitin' For Waits - my anticipation for Paris

Carnival Saloon: Tom Waits - all my obsessive ramblings

Related links'

NPR: Tom Waits In Concert - hear the Atlanta show in full

NPR: The Whiskey Voice Returns - good interview on Orphans release


Sam Jordison said...

Am still too lost for words to reasonably comment on the Edinburgh concert I just saw... I agree with your friend that it's hard to believe that noise comes from a human... extraordinary. And awesome, of course.

Also! Great links! Thanks Nigel...

Nigel Smith said...

I read the reviews of the Edinburgh show in all the broadsheets yesterday. The Telegraph claimed that afterwards "you were in no doubt that you had just witnessed the greatest entertainer on Planet Earth".

Edinburgh Playhouse Reviews

Sam Jordison said...

Very good. Thanks! Did you get the hat too?

Nigel Smith said...

The glitterball hat? Yes! He actually deployed it the first time I saw Waits in 2000.

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