Tom Waits in Berlin

“Tom Waits. Berlin. Wish you were there? We do.”

“Tom Waits. Berlin. Wish you were there? We do.”

Tom Waits – Theater des Westens, Berlin, Germany 16/11/2004


For various reasons (most of them involving a lack of money) we here at Incendiary weren’t able to attend the Tom Waits concerts here in Amsterdam last month. We’re still rather upset about that fact but thankfully a dear friend of ours from Berlin was able to rummage around down the back of his sofa and scrape up enough coppers to go and see him there. Here’s a letter from FrankB; just to rub our noses in it.



How and when did I discover his music? I got my first CD in 1998 from a colleague who was a great Tom Waits fan. It was ‘Rain Dogs’ and then I  followed that by seeking out all the other classics. It was no ‘love at first sight’; I needed a few weeks to understand the poetry of Tom Waits but once I did, I was ‘hooked’ and in 1999 I read about the forthcoming shows in my home town, Berlin. At that time I thought that 100 DM (today around 50 EUR) would be too much to pay for a concert. What a fool I was! I missed the concert(s) and had to wait for 5 more years to get a second chance.


This time I agreed to pay 112 EUR without even thinking about what that means. It was only the second time in my life that I spent 100+ EUR on a ticket, Neil Young in 2003 being the first artist (and that concert was worth every Cent!). But back to the Berlin show: I bought 3 tickets, so 2 friends accompanied me to see Tom. It’s always great to enjoy a show together with friends! Row 13, middle – not too bad!


Even for me as a ‘Berliner’ this was the first time I had entered the ‘Theater des Westens’ (Theatre of the West) in the centre of the old ‘West-Berlin’ as normally it’s a place to see musicals. The building is more than 100 years old with a neo-baroque interior. The Observer says: “The cavernous theatre is flanked by one-euro peep shows and a three-storey sex museum, catering to all tastes; Waits, California‘s answer to Kurt Weill, would have you believe he feels right at home.”  – Indeed, here art meets life!


The audience: Certainly I didn’t feel that old as sometimes when I see a show. The average was between 40 and 45. In other words, people who can spend 100 EUR and, maybe more important, are long time Waits fans. So I was kind of a Newbie, but I think I enjoyed the show as much as the ‘Waitsians’ did.


Waiting for Tom: Some had already seen him the other night and knew what to expect (although the setlists changed from day to day). I did not, so everything was new to me.


‘Make it Rain’ – very good opener, no warm-up necessary. Tom Waits is the guy with the worn out suit, the old hat. He sings about losing someone, something – anything. So don’t expect songs about happiness or the beauty of life. It’s his view on America; not the big cities, but the small towns which nonetheless reflects what is going on (and probably going wrong) over there. ‘God’s away on business’ might have been the guideline of the evening.


Most of the songs were from his new album, ‘Real Gone’ which is in no way a ‘sit back and enjoy the music’ album. No piano, influenced by numerous varieties of what is called ‘world music’, together with ‘human beatboxing’.


Here’s what Tom has to say about this new vocal possibility: ‘I would do it until my throat was raw – Ook, kakkk kakk – sweating, eyes all bugged out, hair sticking up, in the bathroom with a little four-track, singing in the microphone at night while everyone’s asleep. It was like going back in time with the language where the sound came first and then slowly it shaped itself around items and experiences.’ Together with his 3-men band (MarcRibot: Guitar(s) and Helicon, Larry Taylor: Bass, Brian Manta: Drums) a young guy did some beatboxin’ and harmonica playing during Don’t go into that barn and Metropolitan glide.


Not much time for the ‘archives’: only a few songs from ‘Mule Variations’ and ‘Alice’, no ‘Greatest Hits’ show – but a great performance! Some songs from the new album sounded better live, I think. Or was it simply because of the magical presence of Tom Waits? I can’t be sure.


Only one thing I was missing (at least until the second encore): The piano! But then it was wheeled on and we were treated to  two more songs: ‘Invitation to the Blues’ and ‘The House Where Nobody Lives’. Classics! Now I was fully satisfied!


All in all an outstanding show from an outstanding poet and entertainer; the sound and atmosphere were perfect too! Certainly an evening to remember – and one that jumps straight into my ‘Top 3 shows’ of all time.


The complete setlist:

Make it rain

Don’t go into that barn

Walk away

Hoist that rag

Sins of the father

Way down in the hole

All the world is green

God’s away on business


Misery’s the river of the world


Table top Joe

Murder in the red barn

Day after tomorrow

Shake it


First encore:

Metropolitan glide

Get behind the mule

Trampled rose


Second encore (on piano):

Invitation to the blues

House where nobody lives



Letter : FrankB