Tom Waits, Playhouse, Edinburgh

5.00

The standing ovation hangs in the air as soon as there are enough people in the venue to engage in one. Tom Waits is one of those infrequently touring artists who inspires such anticipation and more, and has grown men shrieking his name and genuflecting before the stage while the house lights are still up and half the crowd are yet to file in.

This is the first of two dates in Edinburgh, the only UK shows of a sporadic summer tour. Waits' awestruck devotees have travelled from far and wide, all engaged in some black pilgrimage to see the king of Gothic country blues. So when he takes to the stage – or, more precisely, when the lights go down and an indistinct shuffling can be seen before us – there is pandemonium. Then Waits is there in the spotlight, wearing an old grey funeral suit, dusty working man's boots and that dusty working man's face.

Everyone is on their feet now, and Waits simply, silently raises his palms to the ceiling, weighing the applause in each clawed hand, forcing it louder and louder. And then he starts actually singing.

That voice, too, is a dusty working man's voice, if the man in question were an aged grave-robber in recovery from a bronchial infection. The growl is unforgiving, almost oppressive in places, but there's something warm and loving, or at least cynically passionate, at the core of it. It's surely one of the most unique and evocative instruments ever to be heard on a stage.

Encircled by old public-address speakers, the podium Waits stands on is coated in dust that kicks up around his legs as he tramps along to the beat of the opening medley, "Lucinda" and "Ain't Goin' Down". His style is singular, but a repertoire culled from 20 albums over three-and-a-half decades is varied in tone and emotive content.

That unspeaking opening continues through the opening few songs, as evocatively transporting as they are nostalgic for his fans. "Rain Dogs" and "Falling Down", for example, somehow bring to mind the sight of a blasted desert plain or the smell of spilled whiskey in a New Orleans dive bar, Waits taking us closer to the heart of Americana than most other artists in any medium can.

There's also a precise, intuitive sense of comic timing, which emerges during "I'll Shoot the Moon", as this most unlikely exponent of live gimmickry acts out each word of the lyrics in mime format. It is hilarious and, although perhaps not entirely unexpected of the sometime actor, it exposes the precision involved in his seemingly off-the-cuff set.

At one point, Waits dismisses his band, double bassist excluded, and sits at his piano for the short passage that steps the night up from the already sublime to the truly soul-tingling. "Invitation to the Blues" and "Innocent When You Dream" – the latter audience-assisted at Waits' invitation – are songs truly to marvel at.

Praise for the excellence of Waits' band is well deserved, particularly the rich saxophone and harmonica of the great Vincent Henry. Against the strength of Waits' persona, Henry actually manages to steal the show for short, solo bursts, while a note of very human pride escapes Waits' lips when he introduces his son Casey on drums.

So, after the gentler piano section, the foot-stomping Waits returns to finish us off, belligerent but growing somehow ever more charming with each song. He preaches his way through the raw "Way Down in the Hole" and chills all present with the cold fatalism of "Dead in the Ground". Then the chorus of the main set closer, "Make it Rain", sees glitter explode from the ceiling and over Waits' head. This is, after all, the Glitter and Doom Tour, and both are to be found in abundance here.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable