Tom Waits live is a larger than life vaudevillian skit, a skid row poet and junkyard experimenter bred in the good ol’ days when the entertainers had done the hard yards and had true grit. His voice these days is all grit, rougher than ever, one of the most distinctive and immediately recognisable sounds in modern music. Age and perhaps a few unhealthy nocturnal pursuits have irrevocably seared his vocal chords and the sandpaper growl that comes from deep within his weary blackened belly is the loudest and most powerful instrument on this disc. It’s so over the top, so immense that it’s hard to imagine that it could ever have come from a human being. Yet the emotion is palpable, it’s the cry of his wounded soul, of someone who has seen too much, been too close to the flame, yet somehow survived to groan out the tale.
It’s an eclectic mix of tunes, definitely not a greatest hits collection, Waits delighting in dusting off some of his forgotten and obscure bastards and parading them alongside his more recent hits. Thus songs like Singapore from Rain Dogs and Lucky Day from his forgotten opus The Black Rider, appear alongside a jazzy version of I’ll Shoot the Moon or Goin out West from Bone Machine. There’s also a fair degree of reinterpretation, making the tunes new again, the highlight being Bone Machine’s Dirt in The Ground, which is slowed down, losing its rasp and turned into soothing late night jazz which is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It gives you goose-bumps every time you listen. Get Behind the Mule is almost hip hop and Make It Rain, one of the greatest songs he has ever written gets the audience clapping along to the beat, causing those pesky goose-bumps come into play again. It’s a bizarre and eclectic collection, 17 tunes cobbled together from 2008’s US and European tour that includes a second 30 odd minute disc of his between song banter/ stand up comedy tangents that are hilarious. It’s a collection that continues to demonstrate what this peculiar 60 year olds last album Real Gone told us, and what we’ve felt for the last 20 odd years – that he’s smack in the middle of his musical prime.
Bob Baker Fish