Friday, June 27, 2008

Tom Waits at The Palladium in Dallas

Photo from Unfocused Mike

A long time ago during my Austin days, my old roommate Russ worked on a movie called The Ballad of the Sad Café being shot on Willie Nelson's ranch out in Dripping Springs. Russ was the stand-in for Keith Carradine, which meant that he literally stood under the hot lights in the hot Texas sun instead of Carradine as they set up camera shots. When everything was ready, Keith would step on to the set and shooting would begin.

Toward the end of shooting, Russ decided he would allow himself to ask Keith one "Hollywood" question. Because Keith Carradine had recently starred in Cold Feet, the question to Russ – and me – was obvious. "What's Tom Waits really like?"

I don't remember much about what Keith told Russ other than something like, "He's a poet, really." I know the answer was much more comprehensive and thoughtful than that, but I was thrilled to talk to someone who talked to someone who talked to Tom Waits. And for years, I was such a big fan of Waits' music that I assumed that any kind of connection to the man would be some sort of transcendent experience.

So when I finally saw Waits in Chicago back in 2006, it was inevitably a bit of a disappointment. It was fantastic, but not transcendent – except for "Falling Down." However, I'm not sure any artist can live up to those weighty expectations.

Nonetheless, my enthusiasm for the music of Tom Waits remains undiminished and I bought tickets to last week's Dallas show the moment they went on sale.

Much has been written already about the lack of A/C and the dearth of bars. And yes, it was freaking hot in there and the line for any beverage -- with or without alcohol -- was unmercifully long. But for the chance to stand within 50 feet of the man for the entire performance, I'm willing to put up with a lot. However,the conditions may have had more to do with Tom Waits than the Palladium management. At the Tom Waits show in Chicago in 2006, the concessions closed 45 minutes before Waits took the stage and I chalked up the lack of air conditioning to the 100-year-old venue. That show was actually much hotter. If Waits wanted to create a revival meeting atmosphere, lots of heat and no booze are the way to do it.

And that's what it was on Monday night -- a tent revival replete with the showmanship, hucksterism and funkiness. And Waits has always been equal parts Howlin Wolf, Kurt Weill and Billy Sunday with a dash of Cookie Monster playing "Greensleeves." And when he played "Such a Scream" and "Eyeball Kid," he even channeled a bit of James Brown.

My biggest complaint was that the mix -- it was muddy and missing all of the high end. But what surprises me is the songs he played that are among my favorites like "Hoist That Rag" weren't my favorite songs of the evening. The songs I liked best were "Lie To Me," "Fannin Street" and "Black Market Baby" -- not songs I listen to all of the time, but he just blows them out live. And all you "Wire" fans have to love hearing "Way Down in the Hole." It's kind of special.

Transcendent? No. But I've moderated my expectations. Exceptional? Absolutely. Waits is a master showman and I can sleep better at night knowing that I've seen one of my musical heroes not once, but twice. If you ever have a chance to see him, you should. You won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't.

1 comment:

Krista said...

Thanks for the review of the show. I wanted to go, but didn't have anyone to go with so I passed. I went and bought "Orphans" instead and have been getting my fix at home in my air conditioning!