The Honorable Jesse Jarnow
Album Reviews Editor
Now, don’t get mad – when you put me on probation after that last letter I wrote you, you did say (you really did) that from that point on, I was only to bother you in the case of “extreme emergencies,” remember?
Well … that’s sort of what I have here. It’s this new Tom Waits album I’m supposed to review: Glitter And Doom Live, okay? I mean, I’m digging it and all, but I have this moral dilemma about doing the review. I’ve told you before that, as near as I can tell, I was the only 16-year-old on the coast of Maine with Tom Waits on 8-track back in the mid-‘70s, right? I suppose that alone qualifies me to either be a well-versed Waitsonian scholar or a totally-biased near-stalker, ready to pass out like a teenybopper at a Beatles concert every time Waits howls.
The fact of the matter is, boss, I’m neither of those. Sure I know enough about Waits to tell you things like, “On Glitter And Doom Live, Tom Waits has finally grown into the character his voice was waiting for him to be” (which is true – I mean, when I first heard Waits all those years ago, there was no way of guessing that cat’s age), but I’m not fanatical about the guy. Waits has always been there when I needed him over the years, but we’d go long periods without me lending him my ear, either. So I guess it’s cool and okay for me to do the review, right?
Having been aware of his music for pretty near 35 years, I can honestly tell you that as weird as he’s gotten at times, it has all made sense in a Waits-ish way – and Glitter And Doom Live proves it. Oh, sure – a greatest hits collection could give you a timelined presentation of the man’s music, but the beauty of Glitter is, here you have the present-day Waits live and as crystal clear as you’re going to get (unless you’re having him over to dinner tonight), stage banter and all. And whether it’s the bottomless heartache of “Falling Down” or the twisted behind-the-tent poetry of “Live Circus,” it’s so Goddamn pure and real and … and … Waits … that you’ll sit there when the disc ends thinking about what you just heard and wondering how one human could capture all those feelings and pictures and daydreams and nightmares. With that voice. With that voice: a bellow, a roar, a growl, a bark, a throat full of soul and gravel. When Waits sings “I’ll be dead … dead … _DEAD_” at the end of “Lucinda,” well, let me tell you: that’s what dead sounds like. And likewise: when he promises “I’m gonna love you ‘til the wheels come off” in “Picture In A Frame,” hey – that’s what love sounds like. (You won’t find “Picture” listed on the album cover – it’s tucked at the end of a second disc chock full of “Tom Tales.”)
By the way, Jesse – this has to be the best band Waits has ever assembled. They’re great formation flyers, able to navigate the twists and turns of Waitsworld effortlessly: a spastic waltz here, a disturbing tango there; shoulder-shrugging hipster bop to half-drunk broken-hearted ballad; wukka-wukka guitar funk or foot-through-the-floorboard-and-out-of-control primal stomp; this gang can do it all. Of course, some of it comes naturally: the old man’s son Casey Waits is behind the drum kit, while Casey’s brother Sullivan appears here and there on clarinet and sax. But the rest of the band (Seth Ford-Young on upright bass; Patrick Warren on keys; Omar Perez on guitar, mando, and banjo; Vincent Henry on sax, woodwind, and wicked blues harp) doesn’t even have the blood connection – they’re all just killer musicians. More than that (and I suppose it would take hours on an analyst’s coach – or maybe a series of brain scans – to determine why) this ensemble tracks the quirks and warts and twitches and absolute beauty of Waits’ music like no other lineup he’s ever had backing him. It’s amazing stuff, boss. Sometimes they sound as full and wild as an early-‘50s big band with the Benzedrine sweats (check out “Metropolitan Glide”) and other times they each supply subtle colors to a gentle background of sound (“Fanning Street”, for example).
This stuff is all statements of fact, Jesse – not just blind fanjabber – so I guess I’m feeling okay about going ahead and doing the review, as long as you’re cool with it. I suppose the closest I’m going to come to blowing it is announcing that (with apologies to Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, et al) that no one – NO ONE – should ever bother attempting to cover “Goin’ Out West” live again after hearing this version. Hell – there’ll be a few million harmonicas thrown in the ocean after aspiring blues harpists hear Vincent Henry on “Get Behind The Mule,” as far as that goes.
But enough of that, boss – I’ve got a review to write.
I think I’ll probably end it with something like “_Glitter And Doom Live_ finds Tom Waits as powerful and entertaining as he’s ever been – backed by a band that can follow his every move. Tramp steamers leaving in the middle of the night; slight errors in judgment by the knife thrower; fierce kisses and cutting torches – it’s all here. Tom Waits is beyond the Beats and cooler than jazz … but as honest as real love.”
That okay with you?
Your humble servant,