The will-call line snaked around the building and off into the distance. Tom Waits. Yeah..WAITS is the operative word. But the crowd was of a common mind and passion; so many new friends were made in the long queue to the ticket window and the acquired taste that is Tom Waits.
With just eight dates in odd stops like Asheville, Akron, and Louisville, the concert promotion seemed to be very low-key. At 10:05am on the Saturday that the tickets went on sale, I logged onto the Ticketmaster site. Rather than complete my sale (I had one ready to click), I hesitated as I was unsure of my travel schedule and decided to wait until Monday when I could verify I was in town. Bad move. When I logged on early the following week, I was greeted with a SOLD OUT icon. Damn. I had underestimated the pent up demand for a Waits ticket. Clearer heads convened over the next few days, and it was decided to undertake the challenge of getting face value tickets to the hottest concert since Cher played The Castro. The ensuing weeks were depressing. What few tickets we heard of were 400 + dollars each,more than five times face. Only days before the show, my friend Eric found a friend who had a friend who had a friend who couldn”t go, and was willing to sell two tickets for their face value. We needed one more, so we decided to go anyway and hope we could find one on the street before the concert. Security and “will-call only” sales made that dicey, but tenacity prevailed and I found a GA Tech student who stopped me while I was working the will-call line and said, “I have one, my girlfriend is sick”. A LOT was said in that sentence. Music to my ears.
Kelly was with us and had volunteered to go find some food, so we could quickly eat before we went in for the concert. Successful, she returned with only moments to spare. To avoid scalping, there was a new rule that once tickets were picked up at the will-call window, your entire party was required to enter the venue immediately. We couldn”t bring the food in, so it was handed out to the crowd milling around outside as she squeezed between the barriers to connect with us as we entered the building. Not having eaten since noon, I watched longingly as the lucky recipients of our larder devoured the chicken sandwich, popcorn shrimp, and hamburger (flanked by buckets of fries and onion rings). Enjoy, (sigh).
The Tabernacle is a funky downtown ATL music venue carved out of a circa 1920’s Baptist church with an art deco Moorish motif. The pews on the main level were long-ago cleared out. General admission is now SRO inside the service bars around the parameter. A two-tier balcony hangs over the main floor, with several bars on each level. A perfect location for the alternative music scene.
We entered the TAB and climbed to the upper balcony where our seats were located (stopping at one of the small bars along the way to lay in a supply of Foster’s oil cans for the trip). High, but a nice view of the stage, and the sound system seemed to be set up so we”d miss little by being so far away. The show was purposely delayed from its 8pm start since there was a long line still corralled in the ticket process. I kept thinking about the food I paid for, but had to throw to the crowd outside. Get over it. Have another beer.
It was a hot and humid evening, and the upper balcony was close,our seats further up were stifling. We camped out on the rail next to the balcony bar and hoped we might be able to stay there all night (a few skirmishes with ushers, but we succeeded).
The lights went down and the crowd roared. The stage was bathed in a soft light, with back-lit gauze curtains behind, where the shadows of the band members grew as they approached the curtain split. Nice. The band filed onstage and settled in around their instruments: a giant drum set, huge percussion set, a square of keyboards, stand-up bass, and guitarist with five back-ups on stands around him.
A slender shadow with a hat approached the curtain. He sauntered to the front of the stage where a 5×5 plywood riser had been placed for him to stand on. Stoop shouldered, he seemed humbled by the roar of the audience as he settled in. A voice that’s ‘straight from the grave of Louis Armstrong — if he had a bad case of laryngitis” came thru the speakers as he thanked the crowd for their patience and began his first song. I have read that his legendary live performances are “extraordinarily memorable” and very rare events. Last night we saw what they may have been talking about: part distorted vaudeville, part big top, part piano bar and part stand-up, meticulously orchestrated to have “all the grace and excitement of a derailing train.”
The next 80 minutes or so was astounding. Charles Cross wrote in the Rolling Stone of Waits Seattle concert in 2004: “, (It) was a nostalgic trip through freak shows, murder ballads, and ruminations on lost love. He didn’t so much sing these songs as he wheezed, whistled, and shouted them, shaking his fist like a craps player on a roll. Waits created a world of haunting characters adrift in a bygone age.” Yeah, that,and more. Friendly, charming, funny, he rambled thru 18 or twenty songs (who counts?) sampling bits and pieces of a fair amount of his repertoire. As my friend Eric said, “He is more â€˜performance art” than music.” An experience for all the senses.
When the local reviews of this show come out, I may all find out what he sang and in what order. For me, I was immersed in the whole scene and the “performance art” on stage. I can”t name one specific selection. And I don”t mind at all. [TR 8-2-06]