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Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Akron live review

Akron prizes golden ticket to rare show By David Giffels

One of the things I like about Akron is that we don't take our privileges for granted. We are good children when invited to fortune's table.

So the lobby conversations preceding Tom Waits' Akron Civic Theatre concert Sunday evening generally began with statements of surprise and gratitude that the revered American songwriter had chosen Akron for one of his rare and fabled shows, and how lucky each of us was to have scored a ticket.

A Tom Waits show is not simply a concert. It is an event celebrating a particular kind of cult figure. Waits (recently ranked No. 4 on Paste magazine's listof the 100 best living songwriters) might not be able to fill Quicken Loans Arena, but he will always be able to draw people from all over the country, willing to pay any price to see him. When he feels like playing, that is. Which isn't all that often.

So in the lobby Sunday, there were wide-eyed tales of pounding away at the Ticketmaster Web site on the morning that tickets went on sale, and suddenly being transported into a Wonka-like fourth dimension.

The golden ticket!

There was a realization that virtually all of the 2,500 in attendance had obtained this privilege within seconds of one another -- the show sold out in 10 minutes -- and that people had come from all over the country for this, one of only eight concerts on this tour.

A pair of $65 tickets for Sunday's concert sold for $911 on eBay, after drawing 49 bids.

We met fans who'd flown in from Las Vegas. We learned that Square Records in Highland Square was overrun with out-of-town record hounds killing time Sunday afternoon before the doors opened. We encountered strangers who had no idea such a glorious place as the Akron Civic Theatre existed -- or even Akron, for that matter.

``It's gaudy,'' I overheard someone say as he took in the ornate interior, ``but it works.''

So it was an event, and it was an event within an event.

There is a Tom Waits ``type,'' a sort of carefully outfitted midcareer beatnik drawn to the gravelly, cinematic, bordello-troubadour character Waits embodies. (There haven't been this many porkpie hats in downtown Akron since the Hatterie up and moved.)

And so, for us natives who commiserated in the lobby, the question was inevitable: Why Akron?

We do this. It's our nature.

When people say they chose Akron of their own free will, especially for such a special event, we stop to ask why.

I had speculated about this myself in the weeks since I scored my golden ticket and had come up with a pretty decent body of evidence. For years, one of Waits' main sidemen was horn player Ralph Carney, who grew up here and began his career playing with Akron New Wave oddballs Tin Huey. And Waits has a long association with Jim Jarmusch, the iconoclastic Akron-born filmmaker. (Both artists wear their Akron-ness with pride.)

He also worked with the late Robert Quine, a relentlessly inventive guitarist and yet another Akron native.

But those are literal connections. I like to believe Waits chose Akron for stylistic reasons, the very same reasons that prompt this question in the first place. The idea that it is a place with shaky confidence, gritty and beat-down, but doggedly optimistic. These could well be the adjectives describing a character in one of Waits' songs.

But just to keep us honest, we learned last week that Waits had added a surprise midnight show in Cleveland on Sunday. So even as we reveled in our privilege, we could not avoid the realization that he was gracing us with his presence while a limousine idled at the backstage door, ready to whisk our hero out of town before his boot heels had cooled.

We realized that Cleveland, once again, would manage to stick its fingers into our cake.

And, yeah, it seems as though Tom Waits understood us so well that he chose us on purpose just so he could write that bittersweet ending.

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