Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom Live review

Official review ended up a touch more positive than the first impression…

The last time Tom Waits went live, it was on the stone classic Big Time, which brought even more bark to the gravel-voiced singer’s tunes. That was back in 1988, only three albums into Waits’s transformation from off-kilter piano crooner to carnival barker of the damned. In the 21 years since, Waits has further refined his persona and roughened up his voice, which is less like gravel and more like an avalanche these days; another live document is long overdue.

Though it dips back as far as 1985’s Rain Dogs (and the live performances it draws from went even further), Glitter and Doom mostly spotlights Waits’s post-Big Time catalogue. The set list, cherry-picked from performances throughout Waits’s 2008 tour, wanders through nearly every album the singer has released in the last two decades, even the soundtrack to The Black Rider, Waits’s collaboration with William Burroughs.

Waits is in full-on bluster mode for much of Glitter. Fortunately, his bellowing doesn’t overwhelm the songs — “Dirt in the Ground” is just as effective with Waits using his lower register instead of Bone Machine’s strained falsetto — but the cumulative effect can be more overwhelming than his albums, which pluck an impressive variety of moods from his torn vocal cords. It might’ve helped if the half-hour of stage banter that’s been confined to a second disc had instead been spread throughout the performance (though Waits’s wandering stories and shuck-and-jive routines are plenty entertaining on their own). Newcomers looking for an overview of everything Waits is capable of might be better served by 2006’s sprawling Orphans, but for hardcore Waits fans, the showmanship on Glitter and Doom is pure manna.

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