Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nighthawks at the Palace Theater – Part 2

Tom Waits
Palace Theater
Louisville, KY

Tom Waits – Lead Vocal, Guitar, Piano
Larry Taylor – Acoustic Bass
Duke Robillard – Lead Guitar
Casey Waits – Drums, Beat Box
Bent Clausen – Keyboards, Percussion, Banjo

Beat Boxing / Blues / Many Applause for the “Day After Tomorrow”

It was probably an hour or so into the set by the time the piano was escorted off the stage, but it felt like five minutes. At one point, I leaned over to my fiancé and said, “Can this just go on forever?”

Tom was now standing back up, ragged and awkward. At times, he would take his hat off and bow to the crowd, revealing a struggling peninsula of bushy hair that cut a path through his sweaty forehead. The red shirt he wore underneath his jacket had long turned a darker color, but the warmth didn’t seem to affect him. He would put on his toothy smile, under bite in full glory, and shake like a diabetic seizure.

Once his feet were back to the stand, “Lucky Day” was next and then he went into an unfamiliar tune that wound up preceding an interesting version of “’Til The Money Runs Out.” After perusing the fan blogs, I found out that the song was called “Who’s Been Talkin.’” I’m pretty sure that it’s a cover, but I’m not sure who originally wrote it.

Casey Waits, drummer and fortunate son of Tom, put his beat-boxing skills to use for an onstage rendition of “Eyeball Kid,” which was yet another amazing studio arrangement brought to justice on stage. Bent Clausen took to clanging metallic objects with sticks while Tom shakily shrieked about the ”…not conventionally handsome” Eyeball Kid. A perfect display of orchestrated noise.

Tom slung an axe over his shoulder for a very bluesy “Murder In The Red Barn.” Duke Robillard’s smooth solos worked perfectly through the new variation, Tom providing a gorgeous rhythm the entire way through. It reminded me of “Downtown” or “In Shades,” utilizing those simple and stylin’ blues riffs and rhythms so prevalent on Heart Attack and Vine.

Waits followed with another unfamiliar tune called “Lie To Me, Baby,” and then stomped into “Shake It.”

”Feeeel like a preacher wavin’ a gun aroooooooown’…shakeitshakeitshakeit”

He’d paused for a moment:

“When I was a child I joined the circus…”

From there he went into “Circus,” tunneling both sides of his mouth with his hands, creating this amplified whisper. The crowd responded here and there with moments of laughter when Tom described one-eyed Myra:

”She looked at me squinty with her one good eye in a Roy Orbison t-shirt as she bottle fed an Orangutan named Tripod,” adding, “I’m not going to go into why they called him that.”

I don’t remember if that’s exactly what he said, but it was along these lines.

At about this point, the set began to feel a little rushed. “Trampled Rose,” one of my favorite songs off of Real Gone, made its way into the set list much to my surprise. Clausen picked up the banjo and Tom sang behind closed eyes. An almost perfect rendition of “Get Behind The Mule” and a very passionate version of “It Rains On Me” followed.

The last song of the set wound up being “Goin’ Out West.” Tom’s sandpaper vocal loudly boasted his physical attributes as the band paused at the punchline.

”…I got hair on my CHEST! I look good without a SHIRT!”

The band stopped. Tom stood there with a smile that took over his entire face and the crowd clapped and cheered the whole time. It was tough to know if the smile was a sarcastic little nod at his 50-something year-old body, or just a moment of internal clarity, brought about by the realization that he’d just rocked a Louisville crowd and that his show had gone perfectly. Either way, he gleamed and could’ve lit the room by himself.

Once the song ended, the band took its leave. The crowd didn’t. We all clapped our hands, stomped our feet, whistled and yelled. It was maybe thirty seconds and Tom came back out.

The rowdy crowd took a seat though once the onset of a pinnacle moment took hold. Tom picked up an acoustic guitar and played “The Day After Tomorrow,” to which we all just sort of held our breath so we could hear every word.

It was one of those moments where you were actually proud of the crowd. Usually you’re dealing with others in a setting like this and all you can think is “Man, shut the fuck up!” The best lines of the song received their due attention, light applause of acknowledgment. It was a beautiful moment, one that seemed to affect everyone.

Once the song ended, the applause was deafening. The male counterpart to the woman who’d been vomited on earlier remarked that that “was the best song he played all night.”

To end the night with a bang, the selection was “Don’t Go Into That Barn” and I’m sure that the inclusion of Louisville to the lyrics took part in his motivation to use it. He rattled the lyrics off like a drunken drill sergeant and, once the song was over, it was “good night.”

Words failed me. Once the lights lit the theater, I got caught in an exiting crowd of smiles and exclamations that seemed to carry me onto the humid sidewalks outside. I almost ran into the side of beef with the “Yankee Go Home” brand who had an intense look of determination chiseled into his face. I, on the other hand, was still mesmerized. I may as well have still been sitting in the theater watching intently, even though I was trying to avoid collision with all the dehydrated human traffic.

The remaining hours, most of which were spent looking for a late-night bar, had Tom Waits as the soundtrack. The bounty of promise made by these albums that I’d listened to for hours on end had been delivered.

I hope you never die, you beautiful, beautiful man.

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