Tom Waits stands in a bright spotlight in a tent dubbed ‘The Ratcellar’. He stomps out a beat, sending clouds of dust into the air, and for a sprawling twenty-eight song set he invites us into his universe.
He recently said the most curious record he owns is “The best of Marcel Marceau – forty minutes of silence followed by applause” and his performance has something of the mime’s physical expressiveness, particularly when acting out ‘I’ll Shoot The Moon’, but none of his theatrics would work as well if it wasn’t for that voice. On ‘Falling Down’ he howls at the moon, while the a cappella opening to ‘Jesus Gonna Be Here’ is otherworldly.
He sits at his piano to share his thoughts. The female mantis, he tells us, eats the male during reproduction. However, the male will continue copulating, even after she’s devoured his head and most of his torso. “He’s like a rocking chair.” From that introduction, he somehow segues into an emotional rendition of ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’ and reaches into his back catalogue for ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’. By the time he gets to ‘Innocent When You Dream’, every voice is singing along.
Returning to centre stage, he changes the mood in an instant from mournful to undeniably sexy. The extended guitar riff in ‘Hoist That Rag’ could be Santana, and near me two girls in cocktail dresses start dancing in the aisle.
On the ‘Eyeball Kid’ he dons a mirror ball hat and becomes a fairground barker, while the end of the set delivers the glitter and doom that the tour promised. ‘Make It Rain’ sees him showered triumphantly in golden glitter, but moments later he is dwelling on mortality on a haunting ‘Dirt In The Ground’.
So there was sex and death, melancholy and humour, theatrics and genuine emotion. Waits dragged us through the looking glass and showed us every aspect of life, and the only real disappointment was that at some point it had to end. Just like life, then.
The last word has to be his. “Tell the boys back home I’m doing just fine” he sang on closer ‘Lucky Day’. Tom Waits is doing just fine.