Tom WaitsOrpheum Theatre, Phoenix, Tuesday, June 17
Fans flew in from all over the country to witness the opening date of Tom Waits' Glitter and Doom tour, his first in eight years, at the ornate Orpheum Theatre. Phoenix was the only stop on the tour with two dates on the itinerary, and it was apparent that the reason, in part, was that it allowed Waits and his band to work out the kinks before soldiering on. (A few cues were missed.)
In charcoal-gray suit and his ever-present bowler hat, Waits cut a dramatic figure, standing on a raised round platform for most of the show, surrounded by his band. Instruments were scattered about the stage, with a few cubist red and orange light boxes and a couple dozen old speaker horns hung high on the backdrop. He contorted his body, danced in circles, stretched his arms out and flapped his hands to resemble a scarecrow, all the while conducting his band with authority. Some sort of powder was placed on the platform so that when he stomped on the box in time, clouds of dust flew up and caught the light. He was a junkyard preacher, a devilish shaman with a heart of gold, a quick-witted comedian and a musical alchemist who reeled in elements of barfly balladry, German cabaret, blues and rockabilly, and filtered it all through his singular prism of futuristic primitivism.
Waits rearranges his music to reflect the players in his band at any given time. This night, his son Casey kept things slightly subdued with his relatively light touch on the drums; guitarist Omar Torrez was less avant-garde than most who have held that role with Waits; bassist Seth Ford-Young was supple and able; and multi-instrumentalist Vincent Henry truly shone throughout on blues harp, clarinet and saxophone, sometimes playing two instruments simultaneously.
Those horns added a welcome grind to the gospel rave-up "Jesus Gonna Be Here," a highlight, as were the megaphone-aided "Chocolate Jesus," the gritty hiccups of "Lie to Me" and a four-song stint at the piano. While crowd sing-alongs are often cheesy, the one on "Innocent When You Dream" actually added to the song's heartbreaking beauty.
By the time he began plucking out the aching "Time" on his acoustic guitar, I turned to my companion and said, "Kill me now." I could have sat there for another two hours.