Concert Review | A delightfully fitting tribute lies in wait

Tom Waits Tribute

***** (5 of 6 stars)

Many words have been used to describe Tom Waits, the iconic rock ‘n’ roll legend who has been winning hearts and fans since the 1970s with his deeply emotive gravelly voice and stunningly simple piano riffs.

Waits is quick to call himself a storyteller and to call his songs ‘travelogues’ about people he’s encountered in everyday life. And with their tribute to Tom Waits, currently showing at Republique Theatre’s Stor Scene, the L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres (LODHO) tries to visually, musically and artistically tell a story about Waits himself.

It is unlikely we’ll see a creative and musical talent like Waits ever again, and LODHO is more aware of that than most. They don’t try to recreate Waits; they don’t try to ‘do’ Waits. They are six diversely talented musicians who, as obvious fans, have taken it upon themselves to try to exhibit precisely how talented Waits is. It’s almost as if LODHO have attempted to recreate on stage the inside of Waits’s mind, exploring the fragmented forms of sight, sound and daily life that influence his music.

The result is a two-hour adventure that carries you through moments of spirited laughter to equally spirited melancholy, through moments of quiet intimacy to blown-out intensity.

LODHO opened with their rendition of ‘Rains on Me’, a song from Waits’s 2006 album ‘Orphans’, which encapsulates a depressive theme in his music (‘Everywhere I go, it rains on me’). Three men sing, two of whom deploy their best impression of Waits’s raspy voice. Though the voices of LODHO aren’t as interesting or appealing as Waits’s on their own, varying vocalists (which the orchestra did throughout the night) gave the songs multiple shades of Waits − his true colour permeated the evening without ever displaying itself exactly.

But Waits’s allure extends beyond the dark emotionality of his vocal tones and into the production of his sounds, which took a sharp turn in his 1983 album ‘Swordfishtrombones’ to include a wide range of instruments and non-instruments that created, according to Waits, more “nightmarish and dreamlike” sounds.

LODHO captured that fantasy feeling well: during one song, a man wears a helmet with a golf club attached to it, turning his head in beat so the club clangs dully against a frying pan held by another man, singing; in another a man bends and wiggles a saw, producing an eerie, wobbly, Twilight Zone-like sound; in a third, two women twist and uncork liquor bottles, generating a squeaking, popping effect and audience laughter as they swig repeatedly from the opened bottles; while the longest solo of the night was whistled with a turkey baster.

There’s clearly more to the man and his music than meets the eye and ear, and LODHO brilliantly pay tribute to that fact by imagining exactly what that ‘more’ looks, sounds and, in the end, feels like too. For fans of Waits’s music, this is a must-see. For all others, it’s an example of how to properly pay tribute.

The final Tom Waits Tribute Concert takes place on Sunday.