By Guardian Unlimited / Music 02:45pm Tom Waits in concert. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP It's the opening night of Tom Waits' first American tour in seven years, and the queue wraps around an entire Atlanta city block. The historic Tabernacle Theater is small, it's almost showtime, and all 2,500 of us are still on the sidewalks in "Hotlanta's" sweltering heat. We're here because Tom decided to cut the ticket touts out of the Tom Waits ticket business, writes Ben Cramer. For each stop of this mini-tour (which sold out in minutes), Waits has adopted a strict policy whereby tickets are issued only at the doors. Buyers collect them and must directly enter the venue. The only way to tout, I suppose, is to establish your fleecing price, then stand in line with, and enjoy the show with, your prey. That seems to be a sufficiently weird prospect. Sure enough, there's not a tout in sight. Waits takes the stage in a neglected black jacket and pants, and his signature Stetson, and begins his barking and wheezing. "I know what you're thinking," he says. "What about having to wait in line to see you, Tom? Well, otherwise, you'd be paying $1,500 on eBay for tickets, right? But I was thinking of you. You can meet your wife here. You can meet someone else's wife here. And you can move forward slowly with them." Just how many of these fans would have paid $1,500? Waits collects devotees like a minor deity - famous enough to get respectable numbers, and weird enough to convert some real cult members. His only live appearance in the past seven years was a one-off show in 2004, and he hasn't been to Atlanta for three decades. His true believers are freaking out. Fans have driven here from 15 hours away. Online ticket trades for rides and places to crash have been organized across many states. There seem to be no casual fans here. It's a weird little tour. Eight shows in eight towns in the middle of the country. No New York or LA, but Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio. Tom offered a pre-tour comment on how the places were picked: "We need to go to Tennessee to pick up some fireworks, and someone owes me money in Kentucky."