At least, that's how it felt to me. None of my Pointfest-going friends could appreciate the boozy jazz of "Nighthawks at the Diner" or the wild weirdness of the Island years. I tried including the songs I loved on mixtapes, but eventually, the refrain of "I guess I just don't get it" led me to a solitary fan existence, and I listened to my favorite albums -- 1974's "The Heart of Saturday Night," 1985's "Rain Dogs," and 1990's "Small Change" -- alone in my car. I didn't seek out fellow Waits fans on the Internet, either, and it wasn't until I caught a rare tour appearance that I understood just how deep the love for Tom Waits could run in all these people I didn't know when I was younger. Friday night's Clank, Boom and Steam! A Tribute to Tom Waits at Off Broadway was another gathering of the faithful, featuring devoted impersonations and inspired interpretations of the Tom Waits catalog from local musicians and plenty of appreciation from all of us fans.
I really wish I could give you a set list from the show, or at least a comprehensive list of the artists who took the stage (the list appearing below was taken from the event's Facebook page, but I can't with full authority tell you who played what). Unfortunately, the emceeing was done through a tinny megaphone, so most of the introductions were about as clear as if they'd been broadcasted from a McDonald's drive thru. While most of the earlier acts introduced themselves, the structure of a typical live show was abandoned as the night's festive atmosphere wore on. It wasn't about the bands, it was about Tom and the wonderfully strange art he's been making for decades.
A few standouts:
The first act of the evening was Shoot From the Hip, whose sound check took an unexpected turn into a full-fledged performance of "Murder in the Red Barn." Their Memphis bluesy take was enhanced by the old timey projection screen set up at the back of the stage, and the "Closing Time"-era getup of the lead vocalist didn't hurt, either. Fortunately, only a few artists adopted the full-on Tom Waits voice (somewhere between a rumble, a bellow, and a croon), and Shoot From the Hip's next selection, "Fannin Street," sounded more like Randy Newman punctuated with the ghost of a Waitsian growl.
De Los Muertos was next, barreling through "Cold Water," "Low Down," and "Hoist That Rag" with just the right amount of dirt, grease, and hollering, not to mention a blistering guitar from Dominic Puleo, a Private Pyle-type figure who appeared to have had the most fun out of anyone onstage that night.
A spoons-only performance of "Pasties and a G-String" was done by 88.1 KDHX radio personality Fred Friction, followed by an adorkable trio of Regina Spektor fangirls from Columbia, Mo. called Dubb Nubb. The semi-defective megaphone I mentioned earlier was an unwelcome and pretty much useless piece of noise between sets, but thankfully, there were several spoken word pieces, as well, including the eerily paranoid "What's He Building in There," the downtrodden "Frank's Wild Years," and "9th and Hennepin."
My favorite performances of the evening came from Dock Ellis, who swung from the raucous and raunchy "16 Shells From a 30.6" and "Big Black Mariah" to the gorgeous barroom dirge "Cold Cold Ground," and Tenement Ruth, whose guitarist (David Anderson) organized the evening. To Mr. Anderson, I would like to say that I've been to tribute shows before, and that Clank, Boom and Steam! was an exceptionally fun and reverent appreciation of an artist I have loved fiercely for years, and clearly no longer on my own.
Peck of Dirt
De Los Muertos