The New Tom Waits Live Album is Kinda Unnecessary

Posted by on Nov 25, 2009 | Comments (2)

Everyone who’s considering buying a live album has the same burning question:

“Does it have a bunch of cheering and clapping? I hate that.”

Kiss Alive, Frampton Comes Alive and other inexplicably cheer-heavy double LPs totally ruined live albums until around the 1990s, when record companies finally got wise and realized that the perceived greatness of their performers didn’t need to be inflated by putting a microphone out in the audience and turning it way the fuck up in the mix, thereby annoying the majority of listeners.

So why, oh why, is the crowd mixed so loud on Tom Waits’ new live album?

I was most effusive about the two shows on this tour that I saw—especially the tour’s final stand inside a huge circus tent in Dublin, which ranks as one of the best shows I’ve seen, ever. Obviously, nothing about a CD is going to replicate the experience of seeing Waits live, but unfortunately, instead of crafting a listenable live album, whoever mixed this thing decided to make it sound like the listener is “really” there. The result is a recording part soundboard, part ambient, with Waits’ voice echoing off the walls like a too-expensive St. Mark’s Place bootleg.

This could be saved by a good setlist, but that, too, falters. There are 63 great songs Waits played on this tour that could have been chosen. When you ask someone what their favorite Tom Waits song is, they won’t respond with “Metropolitan Glide.” Nor “The Part You Throw Away.” I guarantee it. Waits opportunistically throws in his own versions of songs recently covered by Scarlett Johanssen (“Falling Down”) and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (the wretched “Trampled Rose”). “I’ll Shoot the Moon” is distractable by the blathered bridge, which leaves album closer “Lucky Day” the farewell standout, and by that time it has hardly any impact at all.

Recommended: Save your money for Waits’ mammoth 7xLP box set Orphans, finally seeing the light of day on vinyl on Dec. 8.

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  1. Les Cordoza
    December 7, 2009

    Well as for the “annoying” sounds of the audience on the Live concert recording don’t blame the record company did it ever occur to you that the artist approved of how this came out? obviously he likes that almost..every artist I know , well this is music to thier ears if it was my cd I could easily go to sleep with a big grin on my face listening to that (maybe even turn it UP) Les Cordoza ( Face Cards)

  2. Josh Yazzie
    December 12, 2009

    Hey, thanks for the review. I was thinking about buying it, or asking my girlfriend to get it for me for an xmas gift, but I think I’ll pass after reading your review. I understand the annoyance with a live recording that has sooo much audience. And I’m more interested in Waits’ more punk rock songs, such as most of Blood Money, the Bastards third disc, and other edgier, piratey material. This live album doesn’t seem to have that. But Les Cordoza is probably right when she says that Waits probably approved of how the album should sound.


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