You wanna find out who your real friends are? Next time you're having a big party and everyone's dancing or hanging out talking and listening to music, throw on some Tom Waits. Whoever among your guests doesn’t find an excuse to leave within 5 minutes is a real friend. Everyone else? Meh. Mere tourists!
Few split the audience with such consistency as Waits. Those who love him – full disclosure: That group includes me – find him fascinating, thrillingly unique and idiosyncratic, a brilliant lyricist and storyteller who sings in the author's voice, and is therefore, a believable narrator. And on the other side, those who simply get hung up on his gritty gravel pit of a voice, and refuse to venture further.
One part Beat poet, one part junkyard savant, the rest an all but unclassifiable creator of musical artifacts, Waits has made some of the most interesting recordings of the past 40 years, running the gamut from hipster jazz beatnik ramblings ("Nighthawks at the Diner") to crying-in-your-beer ballads ("Closing Time"), to Captain Beefheart-on-the-skids avant gardisms ("Swordfishtrombones") and paeans to the old, weird America ("Mule Variations"). All of it is singular, and all of it, once you take the bait, is absolutely essential listening.
Just ask local concert promoter Dave Taylor, who turned his love for Waits' writing and record-making into an annual celebration of the wonderfully weird. Taylor launched "Beautiful Maladies: A Tribute to the Music of Tom Waits" 15 years ago, at the now-departed and dearly missed Continental on Franklin Street.
On Saturday at the Buffalo Iron Works (49 Illinois St.) he'll do it all again, as nine bands gather to offer three- and four-song sets of their favorite Waits tunes. Pinkerton Guard, RussianHands, the Aversa Army, Ten-Cent Howl, Shaky Stage, Tommy & the Two-Tones, Tina Williams, Beggars' Best, and Doublewide will share the honors, covering tunes from every period of Waits' vibrant career.
"Tom Waits embodies everything that an artist aspires to be; original, genius, worshipped and enduring," said Taylor. "Rod Stewart, of all people, once called Waits 'the greatest lyricist that America has ever produced,' and I agree with Rod. Tom's songs are provoking and magical, taking melodies and words that shouldn't necessarily work together and burying them well below the skin level. Tom said at his Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction that, 'Songs are really just very interesting things to be doing with the air...,' which I think is the single most brilliant way to describe the technique of writing a song. Waits certainly found a way to do very interesting things with the air around him."
What: Beautiful Maladies: A Tribute to the Music of Tom Waits
When: 8 p.m. March 4
Where: Buffalo Iron Works, 49 Illinois St.
Tickets: $5 at the door; proceeds benefit the SPCA.