Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom Live (2009)

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by Mark Saleski

You don’t have to look very hard to find all sorts of writing about Tom Waits. Much of it wanders around in the area of Waits’ past, his hard living, the drinking, smoking, the decayed hotel rooms. Some of that stuff is true, and some of it is about as useful as that old truss you found in the bottom of the steamer truck up in your grandfather’s attic.

Maybe the reviews devolve into such cliché because Waits is a difficult man to pin down with words. Too much emphasis on the boozy Nighthawks at the Diner-Waits and you come out with a drunken jazz beatnik character. Lean too heavily on Waits’ experimental nature and you end up with a novelty act. Yep, it’s sort of tricky.

Except that it’s not …

Not if you examine the bits of culture that Waits channels, refines, and (sometimes) warps. Looking at it from that angle, Waits is no mystery. He’s one of those special artists who can make a listener more attuned to the rest of the world, to see the beauty and potential in everyday objects and situations, both real and imagined. So sure, there’s Horse-faced Ethel and her Marvelous Pigs In Satin, the drunken piano, and God (who is away on business). But there’s also the house where nobody lives, the hilarity of advertising, the fact that nobody puts flowers on a flower’s grave, and unlimited sources of love and temptation.

All of that opens me up to wondering about … the single wall left standing in the middle of the field around the corner, the mailbox sitting in front of the lot containing only a weed-choked stone foundation, dogs dreaming in color, fried dough, the store that sells plumbing supplies and earthworms, the world’s largest ball of twine, that girl who kissed me in the hallway, embarrassing entries in Stanley Crouch’s record collection, desserts in TV dinners.

Art is everywhere, apparently.

For the Glitter and Doom tour, Tom Waits chose to drag his art-generating machine across a handful of southern states and European venues. As usual, his band is impeccable — so good that they can manage to pull off controlled simulations of clattery proto-jug bands, shimmery jazz ensembles, and randy blues hucksters. Waits summons the world and his band is more than up to the task.

This tour document is glorious stuff. What kind if music is it? It’s every kind if music. All at the same time. Open your ears and let the world pour in.

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