June 18, 2008

Glitter and Doom

Tom Waits returns to the road with searing two-hour set

By SANDY COHEN, AP Entertainment Writer

Tom Waits doesn't play live very often, so when he does, it's an event.

The elusive musician began his Glitter and Doom tour Tuesday with a searing two-hour set that traipsed through his 20-album catalog. The show at the Orpheum Theater is the first of 28 Waits plans to play in the United States and Europe.

Waits rewarded fans with a nonstop set of familiar and re-imagined tracks from throughout his 35-year recording career.

Wearing a gray three-piece suit and a black bowler, Waits twisted and trembled as he sang, wringing his gruff trademark growl from every cell of his body. He stomped his feet, wagged his fingers and flailed his arms, conducting his band with subtle hand gestures all the while.

Waits anchored the spare stage, decorated only with colored light and a backdrop of broken bullhorns and dismembered brass instruments. His shadow loomed large behind him.

The 58-year-old singer-songwriter embodied as many onstage personas as his work does musical genres. He was a passionate preacher and the audience his congregation on the bluesy "Jesus Gonna Be Here" from 1992's "Bone Machine." Moments later, he was an animated ringleader on the polka-flavored "Rain Dogs," from the 1985 album of the same name.

He was a defiant rock 'n' roller strapped with a guitar on the rebellious "Goin' Out West," a lonely bluesman on "Anywhere I Lay My Head" and an old-fashioned crooner on a jazzy interpretation of "Murder in the Red Barn."

He played half a dozen songs from 1999's "Mule Variations," including the heartfelt ballad "Picture in a Frame" and the tongue-in-cheek Messianic tribute, "Chocolate Jesus," which he sang through a bullhorn.

Sitting at the grand piano, Waits reached back 30 years to sing "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" and 20 for "You're Innocent When You Dream."

Waits peppered his set with playful banter, responding to shouts from the audience and explaining a ridiculous formula for calculating the weather without a thermometer. And he took time out for fun, donning a disco-ball bowler hat just to enjoy the light effects. But he didn't stray from the music for long, packing more than two dozen tunes into a set that was sure to satisfy any fans that made the trip.

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