Music Review: The Sparkle and Boom of Tom Waits' "Glitter and Doom Live"

12/03/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Britt Sondreal

I’m just going to say it and get it out in the open so as to avoid any illusions of attempted journalistic objectivity--I love Tom Waits. He is (I would hope) everyone’s favorite musical shyster with one foot in fiction and the other in truth, pulling con after con only to leave you gratefully wanting more. Using syntax that amalgamates children’s nursery rhymes, Brothers Grimm and dirty jokes, Waits impossibly and consistently delivers to his listeners a tuneful pile of human-truth mud from which Cinderella’s shoe pokes a glimmering toe.* He is part of a long legacy that, both musically and topically, intermingles roots with Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. When Waits tells a tale with one of his songs, it shares a cradle with the socially marginalized perspectives and concerns of Woody’s ballads and Bruce’s “Nebraska,” giving voice to the darkest parts of human hearts with lyrics that call to mind the poetic eloquence of Leonard and Nick. His songs are spun from beautiful decay, woven as delicately as Miss Havisham’s moth-eaten wedding gown.

With a talent like that, what’s not to love?

His summer 2008 “Glitter and Doom” tour is a prime carnival of an example. The third in a string of summer tours that began in 2004 after something of a concert dry spell, Tom promoted the tour with his usual bag of impish tricks, staging a fake press conference to announce tour locations and releasing an article in which he “interviewed” himself. Met with enthusiastic reviews on the tour, he also was given the key to El Paso, an illustrious first in a prolific career that has already found him two Grammy awards.

This latest tour circuit did not set out to support an album, but instead spawned one. According to, a slick new Web site launched by the label Anti in October, the recordings on Nov. 23rd’s release of "Glitter and Doom Live" aim to offer its listener the experience of being present at one of the shows. This acoustically ambitious claim is, for the most part, carried off quite well--the mix has been sensitively blended, particularly given that the individual tracks are pulled from several different tour locations throughout the U.S. and Europe. Despite a few moments of incongruity,
seemingly unavoidable when dealing with multiple venues, the overall journey is
surprisingly smooth and allows listeners to be drawn into one long, raucous night. At times, a track seats you in a small dusty bar with Tom at the mike on a stool; other tracks find him megaphoning over the din of a rickety ferris wheel as you hang at the top.

The concert’s set is comprised of selections from a range of his catalog wide enough to please any fan and educate any novice. From a backdrop of woodwinds, brass, harmonica, piano, guitar and percussion come “Such a Scream” and “Goin’ Out West,” both from 1992’s "Bone Machine," strung up alongside “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down To the Well” and “Fannin’ Street” from 2006’s 3-disc release, "Orphans." The set even includes a tour-original number, “Live Circus,” a nod to both the tour’s overarching big-top theme and Tom’s previous dabblings in spoken-word performance.

And speaking of spoken word...

The album is a two-disc set; the first disc contains 17 concert numbers, the second contains “Tom Tales,” 35 minutes of ramblings and musings that Tom shares with his audience during performances. Not surprisingly, topics vary wildly and contain a high degree of sheer nonsensical delights such as the following: “I’ve never known a shrimp to give anything to charity, and it’s always bothered me, and finally someone told me, well, you know, basically they’re...they’re shellfish. That’s gonna happen.”

"Glitter and Doom Live" can be purchased without “Tom Tales,” but really, why pass by those nuggets of Waits-isms for an extra $2? If you’re a vinyl connoisseur, the two LP’s only contain the concert tracks, but fret not--you are also provided with download codes for a full digital version that includes the half-hour “Tales.” So step right up, be it by CD, LP or MP3, and buy your ticket to all the sparkle and boom of Tom’s latest spectacle.

*I do promise to keep attempts at summarizing Tom Waits through simile, metaphor and
personification to a minimum. There’s plenty of that already out on the market, and I feel it may be time to allow the man’s work to speak for it/himself. (For those who can’t get enough poetic Waits waxings, I recommend the tribute song “Don’t Wait for Tom” from Ohio band Over the Rhine, a full 4-minute indulgence of clever descriptives.)


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  1. Virginia said...

    Such a brilliant, articulate review! I couldn't agree more!

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