Review Summary: Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom Live is a thrilling live experience, that waits (sic) to be relived again and again.
Live albums can range anywhere from a masterful, thrilling experience to little more than a greatest hits with crowd noise. Those rare live albums are the ones that capture the best aspects of a live performance: to me, the energy of the musicians and crowd fueling one another, and being able to hear familiar songs in a new way, thereby gaining a new appreciation for them. Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom Live is one of those rare albums that accomplishes precisely that.
The question of setlists is a big factor in live shows. Play the hits for the casual fans, or play some more obscure gems for the die-hards? For an artist like Tom Waits, where the notion of “hits” doesn’t really apply (at least not when he’s singing them- coughRodStewartcough), he has a bit more freedom about what to play, and subsequently include on a live album. The collection of songs he ended up deciding to include on the album are a pretty even spread representing the second half of his career, with Real Gone having the most songs appear. So for those who prefer Tom’s early drunken piano days: this might be one to borrow from a friend.
The performances, though, are really spectacular, and hearing the songs with slightly different instrumentation and vocal delivery is really something. A great example is “Dirt in the Ground,” which with a haunting guitar line and deeper, raspier singing by Mr. Waits is transformed into an almost completely different song from the album (in a great way). Other songs, like “Get Behind the Mule,” really come into their own in the live setting, and you can really feel Tom, the band, and the crowd getting into it and having a blast. One of the standout tracks on the album, and most drastic differences from the studio versions, is the medley of “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down to the Well.” The difference in Tom’s vocal delivery, the full band, the blending of the two, and the crowd’s energy all combine to make the song go far and beyond the original, separate songs to make something really amazing. The price of the album might be worth it for this one song alone.
So what else is there to say about the album? There isn’t a bad track on here (though I have to be in the right mood for “Live Circus”), the banter near the end of the disc is a great bonus, and the disc of “Tom Tales” is great for a listen now and then. Despite the fact that there aren’t any “hits” on here, I still think this would serve as a fine introduction to Waits’ catalog for the uninitiated, due to the wide representation of his work and the excellent playing on here; and of course, it’s a must-have for fans. With Waits’ infrequent touring schedule, it might be the closest most people will come to hearing him in concert, so this one’s worth every penny.