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Tom Waits
Glitter & Doom Live - ANTI-
FILTER Grade: 88%

By Kevin Friedman on November 23, 2009

 

Tom Waits

For Tom Waits, whose tours have become increasingly rare toward the autumn of his career, this makes sense. He’s released live albums before, each marking a significant era in his evolution as an artist. Nighthawks at the Diner found him in the height of his drunken, torch song splendor and Big Time was an attempt to spotlight his post-beat, tongue-in-cheek art-house persona. Glitter & Doom lands somewhere in the middle. This collection focuses on Waits’ latter material, culled from multiple dates in 2008 and ordered to recreate a set list. But the menagerie feels a bit contrived. Wasn’t there at least one night that shone bright enough to present, warts and all, as a document of the tour?

Still, I feel guilty complaining, because what is here is generally great and Waits’ voice continues to expand into its own universe of sound. On the opening track “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down,” the gravelly bellow brings to mind a Brontosaurus with rocks in its mouth, or maybe just an exhumed Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. On “Get Behind the Mule” the band creates a chain gang groove over which Waits scats nearly unintelligible mumbo jumbo that still conjures new worlds of character and scenario; a harmonica solo by Vincent Henry summons the chitlin’ circuit, juke joint energy. The best moments on this collection—“Get Behind the Mule,” “Goin’ Out West,” “Trampled Rose”—conjure a grimy, Southern boogaloo coupled with self-consciously surreal imagery. By contrast, tracks like “I’ll Shoot the Moon” and “Dirt in the Ground” are merely recreations of the studio versions, which made me want to re-listen to the originals for their perfection of ambiance and performance.

The best live music doesn’t attempt to just mirror the recordings, but expands upon them, highlighting a performer’s chemistry with the band and audience. When Waits does that, the illusion works; when he doesn’t it’s like seeing the cards tucked up a magician’s sleeve.

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