Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tom Waits: Houston v. Dallas

Tom Waits - June 22nd, Jones Hall, Houston TX
Tom Waits - June 23rd, The Palladium, Dallas TX

Yeah, I missed all of the Orphans dates and the Katrina shows so I was ready for this tour. I will confess to being a bigger fan of the Asylum albums specifically Nighthawks at the Diner, The Heart of Saturday Night and Heartattack And Vine. I have bought all the new ones also, and certainly enjoy them, but when push comes to shove I find myself reaching farther back in the catalog for more of the piano/lounge sounds.

The tour is announced and I knew I would see one show and with Houston and Dallas back to back it just made sense to see them both. What a great decision. The two shows could not have been more different.

Houston was a assigned seat show and while I was on the Ticketmaster site the moment tickets became available, I wound up 3/4th of the way back in the hall. This hall was an Orchestra hall. Velvety seats, fancy art, elevators, toilets that flushed... really high class. The stage was sparsely populated with Tom's raised platform right in the middle, drums left, sax right and bass and guitar in the back behind him. There was also a baby grand to the right of Tom's platform. Some extra drums, auxiliary percussion and megaphone were at the ready next to his platform, but none but the maracas were used.

The show started right on time and the audience was incredibly well behaved. Little to no talking and almost no yelling out our heckling.

There were two things that did not work for me for this show. The sound and the pace. I found the middle of the set slow... the 3 piano songs were incredible. How can you beat Innocent When You Dream, Tom Traubert’s blues, and The House Where Nobody Lives?

On the sound I found the vocals to be very muddy and the drums sounded very timid and weak. When he spoke between songs I and the people around me were all straining to understand and there were waves of "what did he say?" or "did you catch that?" I am going to attribute this to my seating location as I spoke with others at the show and they reported that the sound was great.

Now, wake up and drive 4 hours to Dallas. The Palladium had the look and feel of an old 1940's-50's dance hall. Big open floor, all wood, few to no seats, bars lined each wall. It just felt like the type of place you might run into Tom Waits by chance. We lucked out in the initial rush when the doors opened. It seems most people either ran to the swag table to pick up their shirts or CD's while the other half rushed the stage to stake out a good standing spot. You could consider me smart, but the truth is I am lazy and the thought of standing for 90 minutes waiting for the show to start made me tired. So, I walked along the back of the room, near the soundboard and spotted two bar stools right next to the mixing board. They were partially blocked by a larger party, but I asked, and they were not spoken for. I think this was the key to this show for me as the sound was perfect. Not only every joke and story, but every word to every song. The drums were forceful and out front. The drummer sounded like he was really running the show. I could hear everything and they just sounded incredible.

The show followed the same basic format. Innocent when you dream was drawn out and Tom lead the audience in singing the chorus at the end eventually standing up, stopping singing and conducting us through the close of the song... something he tried less effectively in Houston. The megaphone was used sparingly but to the delight of the audience. There was much more talking and joke telling. A bit more heckling and cat calling from the audience, but somehow it really fit the vibe just fine.

In addition to the great sound the show also had a perfect pace. The drums felt like a pulsing heartbeat the carried the show from start to finish. It just felt like it had more energy.

One additional note. The group that I wound up next to included some contractors who did work for the venue. They had sat through the 3.5 hour sound check and shared some interesting information. According to them part of the performance contract required all of the bars but one to shut down once the music started. (This did not present a problem, but I found it interesting.) It was also explained that the air conditioning was to be cut once the show started. It was tripped back on two times when the temps got out of hand, but it seems the plan was for the room to be hot. My wife and I noted that when the air was off the smoke on stage held better and the lights made a bigger impact. When it was turned back on briefly those two times most of the haze was blown right off stage.

All in all, two great shows. Very different experiences, but both great in their own way.

I grabbed these set lists from the

Jones Hall, Houston Tx.
June 22

Down in the Hole
Falling Down
Dead and Lovely
Lie to Me
Day After Tomorrow
Hoist that Rag
Get Behind the Mule
Cemetary Polka
Trampled Rose
Jesus Gonna Be Here
Lucky Day
Tom Traubert's Blues
House Where Nobody Lives
Innocent when you dream
Make it Rain
Murder in the Red Barn
Come on up to the House
Dirt in the Ground
Eyeball Kid

Goin' Out West
All the World is Green

Palladium, Dallas, Tx.
June 23

Way down in the hole
Anywhere I lay my head
Chocolate Jesus
Frank's wild years
Hoist that rag
Get behind the mule
Such a scream
Eyeball kid
Lucky day
Invitation to the blues
Lost in the harbor
Innocent when you dream
16 shells from a 30 ought 6
Lie to me
Fannin St
Black market baby
Misery is the river of the world

Make it rain
Jesus gonna be here
9th and Hennepin

Monday, June 2, 2008

...when is this f'n show going to start?!

Wed 28 May – Los Campesinos!

I travel a great deal for my job. Typically it is meetings all day followed by working dinners or catch up work in the hotel at night. Sometimes I get a chance to do something fun in the evenings.

So, I get called up to Minneapolis and a quick search shows me that Los Campesinos! are playing at the Varsity Theater in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis. A call to the box office confirms that there are tix available, the doors are at 8:00 and the show will start at 8:45. I had heard reviews of the Los Campesinos! SXSW performance and their latest album and I was really looking forward to this.


I love the chance to see bands that I have not seen. I really like this when I do not have their albums and my first experience hearing them is live. This is a real excitement for me. In the past I have been lucky enough to see Drive-By Truckers, Centro-matic, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and a few others in settings just like this. So, this was going to be another great opportunity just like those.

The Varsity Theater is a really nice venue. It was an older building with open seating/standing. Around the room there were raised couches and chairs almost like small island living rooms and the middle of the floor was wide open.

Quickly on the bands, Jeffrey Lewis and the Jitters were the opening band. I had never heard of them until they announced their name at the start of their set. They are akin to Kimya Dawson but with a male voice and drums. I would suggest if you like Kimya Dawson you would like this group.

Los Campesinos! were a great big group with dueling guitars, a tight rhythm section, a violinist, and pair of lead singers who trade off leads, keyboards and glockenspiels. The sound was a non stop onslaught which included great hooks, danceable beats, noise, distortion, hand claps, and sing-along choruses. The sound in the room was decent, but it struck me that the mixing engineer may have been struggling either with the room or with the number of instruments he had to control. It was not bad sound, but it was not great sound (especially for a room that appeared very manageable.)

Did I love it? No. Was it interesting? Yes. Will I buy the album? Yet to be determined.

So, where did this all break down? How did this picture perfect opportunity to become their next big fan not work out?

Simple. The opening band started after 10:00pm. By the time Los Campensinos! took the stage it was after 11:00. The room was no more filled at 10:00 or 11:00 than it was at 8:30.

I know I am old. I also understand that I am not included in any demographic a new indie band may target. Perhaps the target demographic wakes midday and does not go to work or class until 3:00pm. That is all fine. It just seems odd, that when all of the band members are there, that they would choose to have their audience stand around for 90-120 minutes waiting for them to take the stage. I felt a little disrespected. I was waiting for a band to start a concert, not for a child to be born or my transmission to be rebuilt. What is the sense in keeping people waiting that long?

I went to the show looking forward to writing a review of the great show I had just seen. I was ready to buy the album and start telling my friends that they NEEDED TO HEAR THIS BAND, but in the end, I left feeling mistreated. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe I am just too old.