critic’s pick 99

tom waits: glitter and doom

tom waits: glitter and doom

Near the halfway point of Glitter & Doom Live, the third official concert recording from the ever mercurial Tom Waits (but his first in over 21 years), a deep, swampy blues called Dirt in the Ground is unleashed. Its melody is haunting but warm, its vocal performance is frighteningly caustic but still immensely human and its lyrics… well, its lyrics are as simple as life and death, a point hammered home in a chorus line Waits delivers like a sly carnival barker: “We’re all gonna be dirt in the ground.”

There’s nothing quite as affirming as hearing Waits singing like the devil, whether it’s in the deathbed croon of I’ll Shoot the Moon, the wheezy and whispery jazz serenade Green Grass, the scorched earth blues confessional Make It Rain or, for that matter, most any of the album’s 16 songs pulled predominantly from the more recent half of Waits’ 37 year recording career.

Compiled from performances given during a summer tour in 2008, Glitter & Doom is a two disc set. The first half centers on tunes with a theatrical flair that often bridge the seemingly disparate worlds of Kurt Weill and Captain Beefheart. With a band that includes two of his sons (Casey on drums and, in cameos, Sullivan on winds), Waits drenches his tunes with a kind of Brecht-ian bravado that has been suggested on past studio albums. But it boils over here during the beatbox gospel of Ain’t Goin’ Down, the dirty funk grind of Metropolitan Glide and the noir tango of Trampled Rose.

For my money, though, the show stealer is saved for last. On Lucky Day (a tune originally from the 1993 operetta recording of The Black Rider), Waits sings of leaving a life of trouble behind. He dreams of schoolmarms, pool sharks and sage-like advice from his father (“When you get blue and you’ve lost all your dreams, there’s nothing like a campfire and a can of beans”). A joke? Not really. It’s all bittersweet in a very operatic way – or, depending on your viewpoint, the other way around.

Disc two is a 35 minute assemblage of spoken yarns (Tom Tales, as Glitter & Doom titles them) recited when Waits performed at the piano. Among the selected topics: the dining habits of vultures, the number of omelettes that can be prepared from an ostrich egg (“14… that’s a lot of omelettes”), art portraits made out of Spam and the mating practices of spiders.

“It’s hard to find people here as interested in these things as I am,” Waits confides. Don’t bet on that, Tom. Such exquisitely scattered storytelling is a major bonus. It’s recorded proof that, on this darkly enchanting concert album, all that glitters isn’t doom.

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