Last night. Oh, last night. The last, and greatest, of the birthday gifts. Leaving blazing Glasgow on the east-bound bus we arrived in a fog-bound Edinburgh that was doing its best to mimic Holmsian London. A real pea-soupah that was chill and damp, and rotten and otherwordly.
All of which was appropriate because we were going to see Tom Waits.
Can I describe it? I doubt it. All I know is it was two and half hours of dreamlike musical perfection. I may discover that I’ve given up ten years of my life for the pleasure, even if the memories of it come only as unexpected glimpses that rise to the surface like swamp flotsam. But perhaps that’s as it should be.
Here are some of those glimpses and other random thoughts:
The programme, no big glossy, eternally useless picture book – instead a little chapbook of musings and humorous writings by the man.
The stage, like the great attic where all forgotten musical instruments end up, at times lit like an acid lounge, at times like hell’s house band.
The language, at first unintelligible, all growl and spit, and then slowly the words coming clearer through exposure and saturation until it feels like you’ve been speaking it all your life.
The eyeball moments, turning himself into a human mirrorball, spinning slowly on his carnival podium while the lights glanced across the audience from his mirrored bowler hat, and being showered in glitter during the set-closer, Make It Rain.
Taking what you get, it’s a function of a rarely touring artist that the audience comes armed with requests and a certain kind of tourettes, but it doesn’t work like that. Even though (I understand) there were setlist variations from night to night, you’ve still got to take what the man feels like playing, and what the band has rehearsed for the tour. Does anyone really expect a band to rehearse up 35 years worth of material and be ready to play them at the drop of a bowler hat? For the record, my highlights – the crackpot Jewish wedding arrangement of Raindogs, the shorting-out-lightbulb creepiness of 9th and Hennepin, the piano intimacy of Tom Traubert’s Blues, Take It With Me and Innocent When You Dream, and the circus stomp finale of Make It Rain.
The singular dedication of the audience, never mind the prices and the much touted ticket policy, there were still people around us from England, the USA, and two lads from Iceland. That’s proper fans, that is.
The Edinburgh audience, two locals behind us who not only pissed off everyone around us by talking through the first half of the show, but also interjected regularly with baffling bellows such as “Welcome home, Tom!” and “Take It Home, Baby”. My favourite was the heartfelt “This Wan’s For Ma Maw”… right before the great man launched into Eyeball Kid. I’m not sure if that was a comment on the shouter or his maw.
And after the music was over, we stumbled back out into the fog, exchanging dazed looks with people we realized we knew, and receiving after-the-fact texts from friends we’d arranged to meet, as if the place we’d just been did not have dealings with technology. And on the bus, holding hands and dozing and trying to describe the evening with words that were thin and insufficient. Even as that other language, richer, deeper, more resonant, faded from our ears.
But there’ll be glimpses to look forward to, and when it comes to enchantments that’s all you can expect to be entitled to. And I’m eternally grateful that I’ll have them.
**Special Waitsian-related prize to the first person who recognizes the (not-particularly-Waitsian) quote in the title of this post.