Tom Waits Returns To Road For Rare String Of Dates

It will be songwriter's first time touring in more than a dozen years.

After more than a dozen years away from touring, gravel-voiced singer/songwriter Tom Waits will mark his return to the road with a series of California dates during the second week of June.

Waits will take the stage June 9 and 10 at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, Calif., to be followed by shows June 12 to 14 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, according to a press release from his publicity firm.

Touring in support of his recently released 17th studio album, Mule Variations, the singer also will play nine dates in Europe in mid-July. Prior to the album's release, Waits jokingly explained why, short of a few one-off concerts, he's stayed off the road for more than a decade.

"I break out. I don't know," Waits said. "It's a lot of headaches. It's a lot of variables and it's different every night. ... I lived out on the road, I liked it out there. I lived in a motel, it was fine. You've got to bring your own coffee, you've got to bring your own coffeepot."

The acclaimed album, produced and co-written by Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan, features 16 new songs, including the album's first single, the wistful ballad "Hold On" (RealAudio excerpt). Mule Variations debuted on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week at #30, the highest debut of Waits' nearly 30-year career.

Waits is a critically acclaimed performer whose signature sound -- a mix of cocktail jazz, urban blues, confessional folk, Tin Pan Alley pop and avant-garde cabaret -- is marked by his unmistakable, often guttural, voice.

Over time, his vocal style has evolved from the honeyed rasp heard on early albums, such as 1973's Closing Time, to the gut-busting growl that informs the experimental clamor of more recent work, including 1992's Grammy-winning Bone Machine.

The singer had all those various porkpie hats on during a rare appearance in March at the intimate Paramount Theater for the annual South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Taking the stage after midnight, Waits waltzed to the microphone in a dark blue denim jacket and pants, white shirt and beat-up fedora as if he'd never left the stage.

Accompanied by a four-piece band that included Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel, Waits charmed the rapt audience with such chestnuts as the clattering "16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six"

(RealAudio excerpt) (from 1983's Swordfishtrombones) and the tender ballad "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" (from 1974's The Heart of Saturday Night).

Prior to the album's release, Waits treated the Austin audience to a foot-stomping, shouted blues version of "Filipino Box Spring Hog," one of several songs on the album Waits said was inspired by his love for such blues legends as Leadbelly and Howlin' Wolf.

Fans made no secret that they'd been missing him. One shouted "Where you been, Tom?"

Waits touched on smoky jazz, window-rattling falsetto singing ("Temptation"),

gospel-like blues ("Jesus Gonna Be Here") and piano-bar balladry

("Innocent When You Dream"), and commanded three standing ovations from

the normally blasé SXSW horde, which included such peers as singer/songwriters Lucinda Williams and Austin's Alejandro Escovedo.

Among the other fans in a line snaking around the block before the show was Mark Linkous, frontman of the experimental Virginia rock band Sparklehorse, who was second in the queue to enter the venue.

"I'm a huge fan of Tom," Linkous said. "I'm really looking forward to this. He's so important to me. [Waits' albums] just sounded so interesting, just so unconventional and imaginative and impressionistic."