ON TOM WAITS AND THE LIVE RECORD


Sometime around midnight last night (I’m on German time for the moment so it was 3:00 Pacific and 6:00 Eastern for those keeping track), I was putting the finishing touches on a night-long Looney Toons marathon when I noticed an email in my inbox from a friend, the subject line reading only “New Waits.” The body of the email was equally brief and cryptic, offering only a link to Waits’ new, redesigned official site.

And there it was.

Tom Waits will be releasing a new album, Glitter and Doom Live, November 24. Just in time to be my favorite record of the year.

Once the initial euphoria of a new Waits record dissipated, I started to think about live records in general. Can you name ten really, really great live records? Live at the Apollo, Live Rust, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, Metallic K.O. and… and? One of the hundreds of available Pearl Jam Official Bootlegs? I’m not a Grateful Dead guy so please don’t mention Dick’s Picks to me. Ever. I’ll allow Rock of Ages. Maybe Live at the Harlem Square Club or Live-Evil would sneak in there but, historically, live records are a poor substitute for witnessing the real thing and/or sitting around your place listening to records. Sometimes they’re a contractual obligation, sometimes a stopgap between “real” releases, sometimes they’re just an exhaustive Lose Weight Exercise in self-congratulation. Tom Petty, in a recent interview regarding his own Live Anthology (which will be released the same day Waits’ record hits shevles), authored my favorite quote on the nature of live records, saying that most amount to little more than “the greatest hits played faster.” My point is this: whatever it is they are, live records are rarely satisfying and almost never worth more than a couple of spins. So why should I be excited about a Tom Waits live record?

Here’s why: have you ever seen a Tom Waits show?

If the answer is no, you’re probably not alone. Given Waits’ historically infrequent touring schedule and penchant for perplexing routing, if you haven’t seen him yet, there exists the very real possibility you will never see Tom Waits perform. Let that sit for a minute. Now, you can either attempt to ignore the cruel hand fate has dealt you, anticipate the man’s next move (good luck) and then chase him around the globe or you can by Glitter and Doom Live and at least approximate the experience of a Waits show. One will cost thousands of dollars and could, quite possibly, alter the space-time continuum irreparably, the other will cost you $20. Your call, hotshot.

If the answer is yes then it will likely take more than a glowing review from a fellow Waits fanatic to sway you one way or the other on this. I’ve been lucky enough to catch Waits twice in my life and I came away from both performances swearing that, anytime he came within a 500 mile radius of my location, I would be there. Until I get the opportunity to make good on that vow, I’ll settle for Glitter and Doom Live, a seventeen-song summation of the visceral, beautiful racket Waits made with this particular collection of musicians (Seth Ford-Young, Vincent Henry, Omar Torrez, Patrick Warren and two of Waits’ kin, Casey and Sullivan Waits) over the course of a few months last year.

And, man. Visceral and beautiful it is. These are not so much re-arrangements of Waits songs, they are complete and utter reconstructions – rhythmically, structurally, musically – of Waits compositions which are at once altogether foreign and eminently recognizable. Above all else, Waits understands spectacle – aural and visual spectacle. He is the preliminary Teller of Tall Tales, the World’s Premiere Carnival Barker, the Great Mythologizer (of all things, none the least of which being The Tom Waits), and above all else, one of the great living songwriters of the last half-century.

For a Waits devotee such as myself, the only question when considering Glitter and Doom Live is can this album come anywhere near experiencing a Tom Waits show?

If the free eight-song sampler offered from Waits’ new site is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. If you’ve never seen Waits, download the sampler and listen. This may be as close as you’ll get. If you have seen Waits, download the sampler and marvel at how quickly the primal, thunderous sound of Waits’ voices conjures a million different memories, all at once.

I’m curious to hear some feedback on this. Will Tom Waits release the best live record of the new millennium? Did I miss any great live records here?

Below you’ll find a couple of tracks from the free eight-song sampler. Have a listen while we debate whether or not Before the Flood belongs on my list.

Tom Waits – Lucinda
Tom Waits – Goin’ Out West (Take 2)