Everybody who’s been to a Tom Waits concert has stories to tell about it — no few of them heard straight from the mouth of Waits himself. The official live album for his 2008 Glitter and Doom tour actually devotes its entire second disc to “a selection of the comic bromides, strange musings, and unusual facts that Tom traditionally shares with his audience during the piano set,” with topics ranging from “the ritual of insects to the last dying breath of Henry Ford.” This after a first disc crafted from musical performances recorded in ten different cities, “from Paris to Birmingham; Tulsa to Milan; and Atlanta to Dublin.”
“Tom Waits — Glitter and Doom Concert Experience,” the fan video above, pulls off a similar feat of assemblage, but with a visual component as well. Its creator describes it as “a compilation of professional footage and fan films,” using “all the released soundboard audio that had footage to accompany it to make a concert film that should make a good experience of what it would have been like being in the audience.”
The resulting hour-and-three-quarters includes a few examples of Waits’ onstage oratory, and more importantly, such beloved numbers from his songbook as “Goin’ Out West,” Chocolate Jesus,” “Hold On”, and “Innocent When You Dream” — each one as much of a narrative of deepest, darkest Americana as his non-musical monologues.
“A trip through the world of Tom Waits can be disorienting,” writes NPR’s Robin Hilton (alongside a streamable recording of Waits’ July 5, 2008 show at Atlanta’s Fox Theater). “His ramshackle story-songs, with their creaky instrumentation and dusty poetry, usually leave listeners with more questions than answers, and his persona outside of his music revolves around a playful but guarded mix of fiction and reality.” To promote the Glitter and Doom tour, out came “a taped press conference, featuring Waits seated at a table of microphones, answering questions amid bursts of flashbulbs and murmurs” — all of which was soon revealed not to be what it seemed. But as Waits’ strangely captivating career demonstrates, the ambiguity between performance and reality is where it’s at.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.