the Bucky Four-Eyes Cotillion

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Can't you hear the thunder? Someone stole my watch; I sold a quart of blood and bought a half a pint of scotch

Last night was as close to a religious experience as I get with my clothes on.

Anyone who's been lucky enough to be around me for the last week can tell you I've been like a hyperactive child counting down to Christmas morning. The chance to see Tom Waits perform after so many years has been a real event for me, and I scarcely thought of anything else as the day approached (I'm sure there were those who wished I'd thought even a little bit about bathing). I obsessed over it, I daydreamed about what it would be like; I even had bad dreams about missing the show. When I got to my hotel in Chicago, I called Jess, who asked how many times I'd checked my concert ticket on the ride down. "Six," I readily admitted, with only a small token hint of shame in my voice. Luckily, she understands my need to make sure the fucker didn't vaporize in my purse in the ten minutes since last I looked.

Once I had my room, and realized that the theater was just across the street from the hotel, I was able to let out a huge sigh of relief. I might have been just a little pleased as punch before the show:

Waits concert night
Between the lighting in the bathroom and the no-flash camera phone, I look even more bloodless than usual here.

This was such a landmark for me that I actually bought a nice shirt for the occasion:

Striped shirt
Not sure how to act in a non-t-shirt shirt. What are these "button" thingies? Sadly, I was too nervous to remember the chaps. On a brighter note, I did remember my pants.

When I bought my ticket, I didn't realize that "first balcony" would require me to walk up four flights of stairs. It took me longer to walk up to my seat than it did to walk from my room to the theater. Note to self: lay off the turkey bacon. On a slightly bizarre note, the fellow who was patting down the men as they entered the venue looked an awful lot like Robert Scorpio from General Hospital:


Once I'd settled into my seat, it occurred to me that this was the first time I'd ever attended a real concert all by myself. It was an odd feeling, not having someone sitting next to me that I could frantically smack on the arm while stage whispering "OHMYGOD, it's so COOL!" Then again, there was the advantage that no one was there to poke fun at me for the tears that unexpectedly spilled out of my eyes when Duke Robillard played his solo in Shore Leave, taking former Waits guitarist Marc Ribot's sneaky, snaky, demented style and adding his own elegant, jazzy touch to make it completely his own*. The interplay between the guitar and vibes during All the World is Green gave me a similar moment.

I'd brought a small notebook in, fully intending to write down the song names, but found myself far too transfixed by the spectacle on stage to even think about stopping to write shit down. Out of respect for the man and the venue (and being a pussy who totally didn't wanna get collared and thrown out of the show), I'd also turned my phone completely off before the show, so I have no pictures or videos to present here. However, you can find a more or less accurate setlist over at Eyeball Kid's place.

At some point in the show, as the drums thumped and the guitar slithered and Waits stomped and shouted and struck completely unnatural poses all around the stage, it dawned on me that I was watching the devil's cabaret. Not some stylized, idealized, pretty-boy devil, nuh unh - I'm talkin' about what the devil would really look like, an ugly working-class guy who, though terribly powerful, still understands that he has a dirty job to do, like a ditch digger with a flaming trident. This is how the devil cuts loose; this is the show the devil would perform if you would grab a cocktail and sit down long enough to see it through.

While it would be true to say the entire show was a high point for me, some of my especially rapturous moments came during Shore Leave, Down in the Hole, 'Til the Money Runs Out (I very nearly typed "'Til the MONKEY Runs Out"...I need a nap), and Whistlin' Past the Graveyard (I saw him perform that song when it was new...I'm an old fucker). Many songs get rearranged for his live performances, and not only sound nothing like the recorded version, but also sound completely unique from his performance of the same song on the last tour. I've seen others grousing about the bluesy arrangements he's given some of his older songs, but personally, I was wallowing in it. If I want to hear a note-for-note recreation of the album, I'll...well, I'll just listen to the album. Plus, how can you have Robillard onstage and not take advantage of the blues power he commands? The oldest song presented was Tom Traubert's Blues, performed during the two-song interlude where Waits on piano and bassist Larry Taylor were the only two present on stage (Tango 'Til They're Sore was the other piano offering).

The band came out for two encores, two songs each, and closed the show with a moving rendition of Time, which I love simply for lyrics like "Well, things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl/The boys just dive right off their cars and splash into the street/And when they're on a roll she pulls a razor from her boot/And a thousand pigeons fall around her feet."

After that, there was just no more to say, and Waits and Company left the stage for good. Two hours after the lights had gone down, the show was over and the nearly 4,000 souls in the audience staggered out like they'd all been collectively struck by a giant bolt of lightning, a mighty streak of light topped with a porkpie hat. As I was wandering through the lobby, I noticed one gent coming down the stairs in a bicycle helmet; I wondered if he was just prepping for the ride home, or if he'd worn it during the show to fend off the assault on his senses.

But then again, there is no helmet strong enough for that.

* yes, anally inclined purists, I am well aware that Marc Ribot did not play any guitar on the recorded version of Shore Leave, nor anywhere on the Swordfishtrombones album. But Robillard definitely tipped his hat to Ribot's peculiar style throughout the night.

6 of you felt the overwhelming need to say somethin':

Blogger Candy said...

I have no idea what any of this means.Speak english next time.

10:53 PM, August 10, 2006  
Blogger Opera Gal said...

I've always said he sounds as though he gargled with kerosene.

what is trippy is to hear his DEMOS of the early stuff - he sings so sweetly that you could never imagine that this devil is waiting inside to be let loose.

7:35 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger hemlock said...

Sounds like one crazy concert. I love how you describe Waits as being how the devil would be when he cut loose. Fan-freakin-tastic description!

PS - I love all the whacked out spam you get!!

8:54 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Squirl said...

You should know that your Google ad is for a free Viking helmet. And my work filter won't let me check it out.

So happy that you got to see him again. I wish I could've been there with you.


1:13 PM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger eclectic said...

Sounds awesome, Bucky! I'm happy for the great experience, and a tad jealous.

7:59 PM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger MrsDoF said...

Doggone it, this review was better than the one in this morning's ChiTrib paper that landed on the front steps.
You go, Girl!

10:53 PM, August 11, 2006  

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