Tom Waits, whose tours have always the Rock equivalents to Moses coming down from the mountain, showed up in Louisville, KY looking for a guy who owed him some money. And sure enough he came out looking for some payback. However it wasn’t money he got but rather 2000 people losing their ever-loving minds. And as he pulled out song after song, the level of devotion and awe and sheer wiggy adulation built and built until it really felt like Moses had just came down the mountain and parted the waters and sang two hours worth of tunes straight from the gin-soaked mouth of god.
Tom Waits isn’t one to make it easy on his fans. He has built a career upon forging his own paths both professionally and personally, and his uncompromising anti-establishment stance is part and parcel of his legend. And so, as we came upon the scene outside the Palace Theater, we encounter a swirling mob of people stretched down the street to get into the venue. In an effort to combat scalping, Waits where your tickets had to be picked up at will call as the gates opened and the only way to get them was to show the credit card and ID of the actual person buying the tickets.
This, of course, caused a cluster-fuck of apocalyptic proportions. As there were rumors of people paying upwards of $2850.00 for seats only to get there and find out they were shit out of luck. On the other hand, I paid 110 bucks for 2 tickets and I ended up in the second row center mere feet from Moses himself. It was particularly nice to see the front rows filled with people who really enjoyed their close proximity then to have it filled with rich dicks there simply because they wanted to show off their superior penises.
When the shadow showed up on the curtains, a giant scarecrow looking visage, and the man appears on a stark, vaudevillian junkyard looking stage, it was a show to end all shows. The kind of show that, fan or not, you will never, ever forget. Keeping things close to his past few albums, tunes like “Hoist that Rag,” “Get Behind the Mule” and “Eyeball Kid,” Waits was as in fine a form as anybody could hope. His band, which included his son Casey, on percussion and his younger son Sullivan whacking on … something… for a number, Long time cohorts, Ben Thompson on lots of weird instruments, and Larry Taylor on a beautiful upright bass, plus newcomer Duke Robillard doing a passable turn on lead guitar, provided solid foundations for whatever musical whimsy Waits decided to go to.
Regardless, the band could have been a bunch of chimps beating on junk, and it wouldn’t have diminished the impact of Waits voice. In between songs, Waits told jokes and stories that ranged from a wig and hats shop (“what’s the difference?” He wondered) to a bellhop catching a catfish in the lobby of the Brown Hotel after a flood, to finding out that the treats he was feeding to his dog, Chester, were made out of 100% Bull Penises. As he was telling these stories it was hard to see Waits as anything more than any hard-core in it for life drunk talking nonsense in a voice that sounded like the bottom of an ashtray.
Yet when he sang, that voice turned into one of the last great unique American voices that we have, one that stands up there side by side with Johnny Cash and Dylan and even Tiny Tim. When he pulled out tunes like “Tom Traubert’s Blues,” “Shore Leave,” and “It Rains on Me” the world became a bit more magical. When he sang “Tango til They’re Sore,” “God’s Away on Business” and “November” the world became a heavy thing held up on the frail, jerky shoulders of a butt-ugly patron saint of skid row degenerates and unknown blues men. For two hours Louisville wasn’t entertained nor was it educated. We were simply lifted up and carried in to an exhirliating celebration of the Human Spirit however beautiful or ugly as it may be. One from which you don’t recover. One that changes how you look at your world and each other.
Can’t say I’ve ever gotten that out of a concert.
But I can say one thing:
Now, I can die.