Thursday, 31 July 2008


Venue: The Ratcellar, Phoenix Park, Dublin.
Reviewer: MMT

glitter and doom. “a carny barker”. the rain on the roof of the Rat Cellar.

I must have been about ten when I first heard Tom Waits. Having been raised thus far by my Dad playing mainly Beatles or Buddy Holly records in our presence, I was scared shitless. It was probably something off “Swordfishtrombones” or “Rain Dogs”, neither of which are particularly scary compared to his more recent output, but still – who on earth was this man grinding gravel in this throat like a bluesman who’d been dead for a century and why was my Dad listening to him?

It took me about fifteen years or so to get any further. Occasionally Dad would do a compilation tape and post it to me at university, but I still couldn’t hack that voice – though under it the songs and lyrics seemed interesting enough. But slowly and surely, as my twenties waned and my Nick Cave Obsession showed no signs of going away, I started to Get It. They’re akin, two shadowy sides of a very dark coin. Probably a dark coin chucked down some kind of black well. 2004’s “Real Gone” album swung it for me. That voice was now harnessed to bizarre percussive clankings, wheezing machinery. A way in. I took it.

an aged monkey in a bowler hat. a hobo preacher. hoist dat rag.

Tom Waits has only come to the UK to play live for two short tours in the last twenty-one years. So you can imagine, it’s a hot ticket for the loyal fans. Luckily for me and my brother, our Dad is loyal enough to buy tickets for all three of us! And as he’d been on holiday when Tom last came in 2004, he was desperate to see him this time. Perversely enough, the only ‘local’ gigs on the “Glitter And Doom” tour were in Edinburgh and Dublin – London ignored altogether! – but Dad wasn’t going to let that stop him! So Dublin it was.

Rather than play at an established venue, on the evening of the gig we strolled up through Phoenix Park Dublin to what looked from a distance to be a huge circus tent. In fact, that’s exactly what it was – a 4,500 capacity circus tent called “The Ratcellar” with a huge blow-up of Tom’s face hanging above the entrance like the grizzled old ringmaster he is. Around the perimeter of the tent were the usual burger vans, toilet blocks and beer tents – I will officially state right now that the beer tent was the fastest and most efficient beer tent I have ever been in at a gig or festival. Kudos to the Irish!

a nightclub singer who’s never seen the sun. the human cookie monster. trampled rose.

Tom played for about two and a half hours solid, and even though I started to find my seat uncomfortable before he even started, I didn’t care. I was transfixed. It was genuinely one of the greatest gigs I have ever been to. Playing songs from all across his thirty-plus year career meant that I only recognised about one in five, but that actually made the experience even more mesmerising.

Shadow-boxing and shaking his fists into the dark fervently, the man live is even more a brilliant enigma than on record. Growling, spitting and hollering his way through twenty five tracks he was a sight to behold. A long section near the middle sat at what appeared to be a broken-down old piano (but was clearly in good enough nick!) contained some incredibly touching knackered balladry such as one of my Dad’s faves “Invitation To The Blues” and the achingly fractured “Innocent When You Dream”.

The tearjerking singalong he elicited from us during that last-mentioned was proof that his crowd-skills are as honed as you’d expect after such a long career. Telling us wry anecdotes – his speaking voice clearly the inspiration for Heath Ledger’s Joker – and conducting the congregation in lengthy clap-interactions, the Ratcellar denizens were obviously smitten. As you might expect, them having waited so many years!

croaking, hammering the keys. rusting engines spin their last. stomping in the dust.

But for me it was the Fucked-Up Jazz™ (which James was always trying to get Sebastian Windsor to play Back In The Day, incidentally!) and Filthy Blues which stood out. The semi-industrial chuggings of his backing band provided an expert canvas across which Tom could spray his world-weary poetry. Bleak gospels. “Lie To Me”. “16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six”. “Misery Is The River Of The World”. And “9th And Hennepin” is more akin to a poem over a backdrop of weird jingly noises than a song anyway.

“Make It Rain”, with which he closed his main set (coming back for three more songs after a lengthy pause that made us think perhaps he’d nicked off home!) was immense. It span off into an extended jam and sheets of glitter literally rained down from the ceiling onto the stage. Incongruous. Beautiful.

I’ve seen a few gigs in my time by Great Artists revelling in a long, diverse and impressive back catalogue: Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney. This was up there with them, for definite. Epochryphal.

y’know there ain’t no devil, thass jes god when he’s drunk . lost at the bottom of the world. glitter and doom.