Aug 05 2008
Before Friday night, I can’t think of a time I was truly starstruck. I was a bit tongue-tied when I met Gay Byrne last year, but apart from that, I don’t think I’ve ever come close to being starstruck.
When Tom Waits stepped out on stage, he looked ten feet tall. A combination of the rapturous cheers, the perfectly targeted spotlights and Waits’ natural charisma made him the most alluring man on the planet at that moment. I was in awe. I’m not sure if I cheered – I may have just stared. Of course, I was not as overcome as the American guy behind me who screamed uncontrollably and looked close to tears. Understandable!
All this, before the man sang a single note.
But that’s the thing about Tom Waits. I’m not sure anyone can really claim to be there purely for his singing ability. His croaking growl and haphazard disregard for his own melodies is trademark. If the pop divas of yesteryear made you soar high above the clouds with their voices, then Tom Waits grabs you by the throat and drags you through the muddy swamp with his.
It’s fair to say he’s unique. His sound is unmistakable. It’s his and only his and 3,000 people have gathered in a suitably theatrical circus tent, The Rat Cellar, in Phoenix Park to witness the spectacle.
And so, the show began. Lucinda began the set and Tom’s rhythmic stomp on the white powdered stage was further evidence that this night was going to be special both musically and visually. This weather-worn giant in his dirty hat and haggard suit took mere seconds to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Whoops and cheers ascended to the stage and within a few songs it was clear that Waits was enjoying this as much as we were. There was the briefest of moments when he was introducing one of the songs where he lost track of his story and just looked out across the adoring crowd. The man smiled. He was happy to be in Ireland. He was happy to be in Dublin. And at that moment, he was happy to be right there.
The tour is called Glitter and Doom. If the closing part of the show (including encore) is the ‘Glitter‘ section, then the first part must be ‘Doom‘. He played some of his darker, hell-born songs in this section. Raindogs, Falling Down, I’ll Shoot the Moon and one of my all time favourite Tom Waits tracks, God’s Away on Business would be depressing if they weren’t so feverishly frightening. Lottie captured a brilliant video of Gods Away on Business, for which I’ll be eternally grateful:
But it was the middle section, the piano set, that allowed Waits’ genius to shine. Incredible renditions of The House Where Nobody Lives and Innocent When You Dream followed a beautiful version of Tom Traubert’s Blues, a song that Waits seemed to sing purely for his own enjoyment. It was wonderful to see him enjoy a song so much that he has been performing since 1976. The track is still fresh today, as Lottie’s video shows:
Hoist That Rag, probably the closest thing that Tom has to a dance tune, was responsible for dragging people into the aisles. As the people left their seats, the samba rhythms and growling repetitive chorus provided one of the highlights of a night filled with highs.
And one of the greatest of these moments used the simplest of props to unparalleled effect. The creepy and funny tale of the Eyeball Kid was punctuated by Tom’s mirrorball hat, which sent shards of light around the tent. Spectacular in the truest sense of the word.
We were six rows from the front, dead centre, the best seats in the house. I doubt I’m alone now in saying that the high ticket price was completely worth every cent. As we milled out of the tent after the nearly 2 1/2 hour set, I realised that I would happily pay the price again to re-live the show.
In a year of musical highs, where I met the wonderful Juliet Turner, where I attended my first festival, where I got to dance with Duke Special and where I watched Bono’s image rile a JayZ crowd, at the Tom Waits gig in Phoenix Park on 1st August 2008, I was witness to an event, a moment that I will be talking about for decades. This was, and I say this without hesitation, the greatest gig I have ever seen.
Thank you, Lottie, for getting me the tickets for my birthday, and thank you, Tom Waits, for being a marvel, a giant, a presence, something I will never forget.
More photos of the night here.