Tom Waits Airport Blues

Poster for Waits' concert was created by the great '60s poster artist, Mouse.

ATN San Francisco correspondent Steve McConnell reports:

Tom Waits brought his personal cock-eyed world filled with German dwarves,

jailed prostitutes, and rain soaked Stacys to the Paramount Theater in Oakland,

CA on Sunday night (Feb. 4), and those of us lucky enough to be present were

the better for it. For nearly 2 1/2 hours, Waits and his crack band brought to

life the down and out losers which populate his musical landscape. This was

Waits' first appearance in over six years in the Bay Area, and it was long

overdue.

Waits' appearance was a benefit performance on behalf of Don Hyde,

a film-maker friend of his who has become entangled in drug charges which Hyde

alleges were trumped-up. In keeping with the spirit and atmosphere of the

gorgeous decor of the newly renovated art deco Paramount Theater, Waits (and

most of his musicians) were decked out in suits, as were a lot of the retro

hipsters in the audience.

Performing more than 30 songs, Waits drew most

heavily on 1992's Bone Machine, but managed to touch on aspects of all

eras of his career. Opening with the kids anthem "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"

(covered by the Ramones on Adios Amigos last year), Waits jumped from

acoustic guitar, to maracas, organ, banjo and bull-horn to supplement his

tunes. His backing band included Joe Gore (former PJ Harvey band member), who

contributed alternately gorgeous and eerie guitar work, and long-time sideman

Ralph Carney, who honked accompaniment on all kinds of wind

instruments.

This being a one-off concert, the fine edges of the show were

occasionally rough. There were a couple of long tune-ups, and Waits asked to

try a second take on the song "Johnstown, Illinois" (from

Swordfishtrombone) when he missed some of the high notes on the first

attempt. This being said, the effort and spirit shown by Waits and his band

more than made up for the occasional bum note. Waits poured his heart into each

of his songs, and the audience responded with passionate applause.

Highlights of the concert included Bone Machines's "Black Wings,"

"Jesus Gonna Be Here" (sung through a bull horn like a street corner gospel

preacher), and "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me." This last tune had seemed like a

throwaway on the album, but live, was fully developed like a piece of eerie

theater, culminating with Waits singing the refrain of "Somewhere Across The

Sea" (again through the bullhorn), and sounding like a 78 rpm recording from

the first World War.

Waits also gave great renditions of "16 Shells From a

30 Ought 6, " "Tango Till You're Sore," "Gun Street Girl," and "Time." A lovely

piano section in the middle of the show (accompanied by Greg Cohen on bass) was

highlighted by "Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis," and "Invitation

to the Blues." Waits came back four times for encores, including two bluesy

tunes with Charlie Musselwhite accompanying him on harp. The range of music he

played stretched from the beginning of his career ("Big Joe and the Phantom

309") to his most recent work (both songs from the Dead Man Walking

soundtrack album including "Walk Away," a classic Waits' rum drinkin' sea

chanty of death row wishful thinking for just one more chance). At the end, he

came back one last time for the hauntingly beautiful "Tom Traubert's Blues,"

and it was time to go home.

Waits appears to have settled into home life

after moving to Northern California a few years ago. This was his first live

appearance since a spot on the Arsenio Hall show a while back. Family life

seems to be suiting him just fine, as evidenced by the kids sitting

cross-legged in the wings of the stage. For those of us who are fans, it seems

like a crime that he doesn't tour, but maybe this performance will be the shot

in the arm he needs to start again. Between songs in the middle of the concert,

someone shouted, "Hey Tom, where ya' been?" "Where YOU been?" said Waits. "You

still working at the

airport?"