Friday, November 4, 2011

Tom Waits 12: Big Time

Despite the theatrical genesis of Franks Wild Years, it was never made into a narrative movie. Instead, Tom’s tour behind the album was filmed and cut with a few performance art pieces, and released as Big Time. With the band basically crowded around the industrial light bulb hung from his mike stand, it makes for a straining watch.
At least the music is entertaining. A smattering of selections were included on the companion soundtrack album, and provides a nice sampler of songs culled mostly from his Island tenure. In the live format, Tom’s able to emote a little more, giving some life to things like “Way Down In The Hole”, while infusing “Cold Cold Ground” and “Time” with the tenderness they deserve. Even with its jokey non sequitur prelude, “Train Song” is just as sad as its album version.
There are some departures to keep things interesting. “Red Shoes” is rescued from ‘70s obscurity, and “Strange Weather” makes its Waits debut, having already been covered by Marianne Faithfull, deep into her own Kurt Weill phase. “Falling Down” is a studio recording; nearly a pop song, we can’t help wondering if the demolished hotel mentioned in the lyrics is a reference to his old home in the Tropicana. “Telephone Call From Istanbul” is sped up, and runs away from the chorus to quote “Chantilly Lace”. Throughout, his crackerjack junkyard ensemble keeps up with his every spit and gargle.
It’s not the best representation of a Waits concert, but given that he was about to take a ten-year sabbatical from the stage, Big Time had to suffice.

Tom Waits Big Time (1988)—3
1988 CD version: same as LP, plus 6 extra tracks

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