A tribute to Tom Waits

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As I’ve pontificated in various fishwrappers before; covering a Tom Waits tune is like wrestling an alligator; if you win you get a new pair of shoes. Lose, and jack you’re dead. 

Last Tuesday, some 20-odd Rochester artists got together to play the music of Waits to celebrate the man’s 72nd birthday.

Waits is a rail -ridin’ gypsy troubadour, a beatnik extraordinaire who spills influence lyrically, musically baptizing his acolytes with material that is profane, insane, and legendary. Waits is his own genre. Waits for all men.

The show at Iron Smoke Distillery was a cross section of music styles, from those who played Waits’ music with painstaking precision to others who did it the other way around letting the music launch its sparkle glitter skyward. 

Some of the covers were loosely reworked and stripped down while others led to the realization that Waits was actually there as the parade of hipsters plied their versions and visions. Viva.

I honestly couldn’t differentiate the songs I liked from those I heard this week.

The house band, led by the baton of bassist and arranger Brian Williams, keyboardist Alan Murphy, drummer Greg Andrews, and guitarist Phil Marshall made it sound just like the original and when it called for some beaucoup batshit and tonally deliciousness… well, just look out dad. Remember Waits uses brake calipers in his drum set up. 

In no particular order, here are some highlights.

Pete Griffith — “Christmas Card from a Hooker In Minneapolis” 

Todd Krasz — “God’s Away on Business”

Jeff Spevak — “Potter’s Field”

And who was the Joker who ripped open his shirt at the end of “Pasties and G-String?” My wife is gonna kill me.

Whaddya say, let’s do it again? 

Frank De Blase is Rochester Beacon music writer.

Here’s a comprehensive list of live shows in and around Rochester: Get Your Gig On

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