• 10

    Tom Waits - Big Time

    As anyone who’s taken even a cursory glance at his discography knows, there are two Tom Waits. For the first decade of his career, he was a singer-songwriter with jazz tendencies. Maybe it was recording an album of duets with Crystal Gayle in the early ‘80s that made him snap; or the influence of his new wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan, who exposed him to Captain Beefheart; or his having just signed to Island Records, frequently the home of eclectic work. Whatever the case, beginning with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones, audiences were introduced to a very different Waits—one more likely to sing something resembling a sea shanty while bashing on junkyard trash than a piano ballad.

    Swordfishtrombones and his next two albums, Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years, formed a loose trilogy that carried Waits through the ‘80s with a redefined sound and purpose. In 1987 he took this new material on the road for a tour now considered his best, and the result was his first proper live album (1975’s Nighthawks at the Diner was recorded live in the studio). Fronting a five-piece band at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre and Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre, Waits shines on the album and the accompanying brilliantly weird concert film, particularly over the Middle Eastern textures of “Red Shoes” and the swinging “Telephone Call From Istanbul.” And for anyone who’s seen season two of The Wire, it’s certainly odd to hear its theme song get a live airing 16 years earlier (the other four seasons of the show featured other artists’ and band’s takes on Waits’ original composition). He’s only released one other live album since, 2009’s Glitter and Doom Live, which is superb (particularly the second disc, “Tom’s Tales,” which is just 35 minutes of Waits telling stories and jokes between songs), but not as of-a-time-and-place as Big Time.