Tom Waits has long been one of my favourite music performers. His raspy voice is unmistakable. His subject matter is at once universal and oddball. He can write rock, blues, gospel, ballads, and funhouse music with equal aplomb.
Readers of this blog know that it focuses mostly on things digital, but if there is one thing in this world that is antithetical to digital it’s the music of Tom Waits! Tom Waits is analog through and through. (Waits defies expectations though, so to confirm the previous statement I looked for him on Twitter — @tomwaits is obviously maintained by his record label or PR agency.)
Last night I went to a see Quebec City’s L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres perform Tom Waits at Calgary’s historic Grand Theatre. (Last night was the 100th anniversary of the first ever show at the Grand.) Their show is part concert, part vaudeville theatre, part mayhem. L’Orchestre pour all their energy into each arrangement, finding inventive ways to make music and channel the spirit of Mr. Waits.
The stage on which L’Orchestre perform is strewn with over 100 items (in truth, pieces of junk) from which they coax sound with the subtlety of a golf club striking a frying pan (one of the “instruments”) or boxing gloves pounding a piece of wood (another). By the end of the performance the stage is in shambles, the performers spent, and the audience converted.
These days we are surrounded by all types of communication that are 100% digital: smart phones, the iPad, digital photography, digital music and video downloads, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, email. Watching L’Orchestre it struck me what a treat it is to see something so decidedly analog. It is a rare and precious thing to connect with someone who is beating out a frantic rhythm on a banjo with a fist full of dry spaghetti noodles; to be enchanted by two ladies in proper 1940’s dress tapping their spoons against absinthe filled tea cups; to hum along to a whiskey jug band, drunk on longing.
One of my joys in life is getting away from modern city life and spending time in the wilderness (or even a park if I can’t get away for very long). Last evening I felt the same joy listening to Tom Waits as performed by L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres as I do when hearing the sound of footsteps crunching dry leaves, water dripping from a canoe paddle into a glassy lake, wood exploding from the force of an axe, or fire crackling in the moonlight with coyotes howling in the distance.
So here is my advice to you. Right now, before you do anything else: listen to some Tom Waits in iTunes (or better yet, on vinyl if you have some); visit L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres website or search for them on YouTube and watch something truly amazing (warning—not a replacement for seeing them live); or, stand up, turn off your computer, go outside, feel the sun on your skin, and listen to the sound of clouds forming or stars exploding in the universe light-years from where we are now.