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Tom Waits

Glitter and Doom Live


[Anti-; 2009]



By ; December 1, 2009 


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Sensitive singer songwriter. Jazzy nightclub hipster. Found instrument auteur. Growly bluesman. Circus sideshow act. You never know what you’re going to get with Tom Waits. For four decades now Tom Waits has been defying easy categorization and doing what he does best – producing music that is as big of a hodgepodge of styles as America once was. You’d think live albums would be a safe way for those new to his music to dive in. Usually second only to greatest hits albums in predictability, the live album often features little more than a disc or two of an artist’s biggest hits framed by crowd noise. But this is Tom Waits we’re talking about, and there’s nothing business-as-usual about Glitter and Doom.

A document of the 2008 tour of the same name, the Glitter and Doom Tour played only scattered U.S. and European dates and came two years after his last release. Orphans was a three-volume compilation of songs that didn’t find their place on previous records, along with a handful of new material, and his last studio album of all new material, Real Gone, was back in 2004. With nothing new to promote, the Glitter and Doom Tour promised nothing but the opportunity to see Tom Waits live, and although he performed songs from both releases, the resulting live album has more in common with his pair of theatrical releases from 2002, Alice and Blood Money.

Glitter and Doom isn’t about a live show as much as it is about a live performance. There’s nothing natural about the brute voice that Tom projects so well during the opening “Lucinda/Down To The Well,” a brilliant combination of two Orphans tracks that far surpasses what the two originals had. The album is worth checking out for this song alone, but it’s unsettling the first time you hear it. Tom Waits has used the grittier aspects of his voice quite effectively for the past 25 years, but this pushes things to the extreme and into the realm of theater. “Goin’ Out West” is a nice romp, sounding like a stripped down blues song done to the tune of T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong.” There’s a foreboding that’s absent from the Orphans version on “Fannin’ Street,” and his excellent band gets a chance to stretch out as Waits barks lyrics on “Get Behind The Mule.”

Waits sticks mostly to songs from the last decade or so, but even then his choice of material sometimes seems random and plays more like an alternative detour through the past 20 years than any sort of greatest hits live collection. “Falling Down” is a nice nod to his previous live album, 1988’s Big Time, as the song was featured on that record as the album’s lone studio song. And “Singapore” reaches back a little further to the time when he made a major break from largely acoustic guitar and piano-driven songs to a potpourri of sounds you couldn’t easily slap a label on.

The theatrical nature of the performance starts to wear a little thin by end of the first disc on songs like Real Gone’s “Circus.” And there’s plenty of this on the second disc, such as “Tom Tails,” which consists of nothing but between-song banter and jokes. It’s entertaining when you’re in the right mood, but sometimes you wish a guy with these immense talents and songs this good would play things just a little bit more straight. Of course, part of being a Waits fan is learning to enjoy the ride. Glitter and Doom rewards, even if, much like the randomness of the cities the tour played in, it comes across more like a backwoods road trip than a full-blown drive.


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