Tom Waits. The Tabernacle. Tuesday.
I’ve spent the last thirty hours thinking about the show. Reliving it in my head. Keeping it internal, for the most part, to better commit it to memory. I listened to Tom Waits nonstop at work yesterday. Even graveled my voice once or twice. Now I’m ready to type.
Tuesday’s show was, quite possibly, the best, most exciting show I’ve seen in five years. And I’ve seen a lot of good concerts in that half a decade. Thing is, I’m not this raving Tom Waits fan (and you know I rave a lot about a lot). I’ve always enjoyed his music — The Heart of Saturday Night is in my Top 100 — but I have just five or six albums. However, I felt compelled to go, that it was a must for someone who loves music and concerts as much as I do. I’m glad I felt the must to go. Tom Waits was a-f*cking-mazing.
This was Tom Waits’ first appearance in Atlanta since 1978 — an absence of near thirty years. Waits has named this the Orphan Tour. I did a little reading online, and found that “orphan” doesn’t refer to a new album, but instead the cities — places where he hasn’t performed in years. He’s performing in seven U.S. cities, and Atlanta was the first stop of the tour.
I don’t want to do a concert review here. There are better ones out there by my fellow bloggers, so read their posts:
What We All Want
Shiver Me Quivers
The Eyeball Kid
Making a Long Story Longer
The AJC has a review and photos of Tuesday’s show.
The lights dimmed. The audience roared. Palpable anticipation, as the band filled the stage, waiting for him to walk out. Shall I add the concert cliché the crowd went nuts? Yes, I should, because I’ve rarely been part of such anticipation, such excitement in the seconds before a show began. Truly shiver me timbers (my favorite Waits song, which he didn’t perform).
The pork-pied Waits walked out and exultation filled the Tabernacle (“exultation” may seem over the top, but it isn't, not this time). He started with “Make It Rain,” and rain it did. Each one of us was in the moment, in his palm. It was, from the first note to the last encore, a spectacular show. I wasn’t familiar with all songs, but that was beside the point. This was Tom Waits performing, talking, moving. “Concert” seems too tame a word to describe the event. To be in a room and hear that voice, those lyrics come alive ... well, I can't find the words to do it justice (especially during the Cup Challenge).
And the lighting. The stage was simply set, with just the musicians and their instruments. A curtain backdropped the three-story wall behind them. The lights were set so that Tom Waits’ shadow loomed large on the curtain, yet didn’t show the band. Waits moved in his frenetic style, casting these two-story reflections that looked like an Indonesian shadow puppet show. I found myself several times entranced by the shadow and the music, forgetting to watch the man himself.
He performed for nearly two hours, including two short encores. To hear his voice live … well, it’s indescribable. Tom Waits is like no other, and I got to be a part of that for a night.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Tom Waits’ character in Short Cuts, hoping that Earl is close to the real Tom Waits. His complete love* for Lily Tomlin’s Doreen is beautiful. Tuesday night, I felt like I was with Earl.
I’ll skip the long story about the long wait, the long lines, the not-so-long delay. But we waited in the sun for a couple of hours, another hour locked in the Cotton Club during the sound check, then a couple more hours as fans picked up their tickets. All tickets were distributed at the Tabernacle, per Tom Waits’ request, to cut the scalpers at their knees, and he held the show until every person was inside. (Thanks to those of you who indulged me with cell chats and text messaging during the long wait.)
Surprisingly, the wait in the sun wasn’t bad. I bought my ticket from Lance, a true Tom Waits fan who will see the show twice more (can’t wait to hear about Memphis and the Ryman, Lance!). He got in line 1:30 and was one of the first in queue, with several Raindogs (fellow fans). Lance could not have been more gracious, welcoming me into their afternoon club. He shared his beer, his cooler, and his Waits-filled stereo with us. They were a great bunch of guys, and I had fun talking about different shows we’d seen, who was amazing and who sucked. Nothing like a long discussion of concerts to keep me from noticing the broiling sun. I lost them once the show began; they ringed the stage, and I left that position for the more rabid fans.
As a whole, the audience was one of the greatest gatherings of thousands I’ve been a part of. Very respectful of the man and the music. It’s rare to have that many people stand quietly while a musician performs, but stand quietly they did. (But not still. We danced and swayed with the music.) And shushed those few who had to chat or let loose a war whoop. They were also respectful of the rest of us. I’m of average height, but I feel like Mary Lou Retton in a general-admission setting. Whenever I moved to a new spot, the person in front of me, nearly every time, turned and asked if I could see, if he needed to shift. Or we’d catch eyes and just grin. Lots of joyful faces in that room.
When the show ended, I was wiped. Spent. Near sleep on my feet. And yet I wasn’t ready to go home. So I went to the drive-in at the Varsity, enjoyed a chili steak and FO, and just stared and thought and relived. Drove home my favorite way, from one end of Peachtree to the other, sunroof open, radio off, reliving what I had just experienced.
I’m sorry that I saw this show by myself because it’s one I want to talktalktalktalk about. But I saw it, and I’m glad, so very glad, that Lance was generous and fair with his spare ticket. He’s this month’s hero.
*Allowed during the Cup Challenge; it’s used here as a noun, not a verb.