Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tom Waits – Big Time

   When in 1988 Island Records released Big Time, the 12th official album of Tom Waits, many have guessed it was about the end of the entire era. It had been issued in parallel with the film of the same title, and in the matter of fact as a kind of soundtrack for the movie. Tom Waits who was hardened in mid 70’s while being both late beatnik and avant-garde bard, a decade later became famous as author of songs, composer, singer, actor and creator of project that made him the guru of an alternative music. Some were convinced that after Tom Waits married Kathleen Brennan, his direction has changed. Maybe she was the one, who opened him for Captain Beefheart’s music and ideas, but in this decade Waits’ creative activity was equally high as before and development was even more rapid. He was heading almost the same direction as Beefheart few years before, but even if he has changed, this was more like following the changing times. And the times were really changing.
   The general tendency was visible yet in some of Tom Waits’ songs from last Asylum years. The title song of his last Asylum album Heartattack and Wine (1980) shows he was moving towards folk and blues aiming the same ideas Captain Beefheart did before. But Waits did it on his own way – where Beefheart was rough and individualized, Waits was nostalgic and socialized. This was the main difference between Beefheart and Waits – folk blues expression versus moving folk lyricism and catchy country tunes. In early 80’s he started his association with Island Records, beginning the period of his great albums – by many recognized as his best works – Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985) and Frank’s Wild Years (1987). The last accord of this series was Big Time, live album with songs mostly known from earlier studio recordings, but in live versions performed during 1987 tour.

Tom Waits – Big Time (1988)

   The album Big Time is much more than just an alternative version of the movie, it is rather complementary vision of these songs in better audio quality and with audience interaction. Both are perfect closings for the narrative continuity of prior records and kind of climax ending the chapter of artist biography – this chapter included also acting in best movie productions and participation in recording sessions with different artists. In 70’s he was underground individual, in 80’s he became alternative celebrity and one of most recognized artists. Recorded in November 1987 and released in September next year, Big Time was great artistic success. Recordings came from gigs in Warfield Theatre in San Francisco and Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Both, film and record gave the most accurate picture of Waits’ live performances, including acting and talking to the public in the movie and all songs in perfectly fitting edition. The song Falling Down is unpublished studio recording. It’s a kind of bridge between Way Down in the Hole and written for Marianne Faithful Strange Weather  a magic moment in the movie and the end of A Side.

Tom Waits – Big Time – Strange Weather (1988)

   But what was the real value of these productions, these are kind of recapitulations of Waits’ creative achievements. One can find here biting wit and pure nonsensical skits as well as rational insights and touching ballads. Different instrumental settings bringing sound stylized on a cheap cabaret band with great power of expression. The band saxophonist Ralph Carney is playing various horns including tenor and alto saxophones played simultaneously on stage. Jazz musicians guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist Greg Cohen playing also alto sax are well known for their rich artistic activities. The group includes Willy Schwarz playing accordion, organ, sitar and conga and the drummer Michael Blair who was also a parto of staff recording Rain Dogs album. Including so powerful personalities instrumental lineup of Waits’ band is sometimes neglected. Many critics just don’t remember how strong the impact of this band was in times of plastic electronic instruments. This presentation really showed there are no different Waitses and different periods are only mind constructions for better understanding the process of artistic development. Strong and bright four stars.

1 comment:

Krzysztof Szatrawski said...

Big Time is great movie but it's still only in original VHS quality. I hope someday it will be republished to meet technical demands of modern viewers.

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