I've finally arrived in Paris from Lille. I'm visiting my brother who lives and works in France. I was supposed to be in France visiting during the May Irish Bank Holiday, but I cancelled that trip because Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds were performing live at Dublin Castle. I reorganised the dates, booked the trip months ago and got zero cent Ryanair flights into Beauvais. All good then.
Unbelievably, when Tom Waits announced his European Tour, I discovered I was in France the same weekend as Tom's concert in Le Grand Rex, Paris. Lille is only two hours from Paris. Too good to be true. I finally got my two tickets on the Internet at Gérard Drouot Productions website and nearly had heart failure when the website crashed just when I clicked "buy". All ended well and my tickets are in Row C 20 & 22, second row from the front of stage. I also booked an Hotel just two metro stops from Le Grande Rex.
I was a bit concerned that I would have difficulty driving to the hotel as I don't know Paris very well. I don't have a Sat Nav because I actually like getting lost and the consequent adventures. This time, though, I had no intention of getting lost, stuck in traffic or diverted and so I purchased a Tom Tom. It was well worth the money. We left Lille at 14.00 hrs: Tom Tom Sean (that's the Irish voice) said we would get to the Hotel on the Place de la République at 16:10 hrs. True to his word, we arrived at the Hotel at 16.10 hrs, no delays, adventures or events along the way.
The show was due to start at 8pm and the ticket office was open at 6pm for those of us who booked our tickets on The Net. I just couldn't wait to get my hands on my tickets and got to Le Grande Rex at just after 6pm. Even though it was really hot and the queue was long and taking ages to move along, the buzz amongst the crowd was amazing; everyone was in great form, laughing and swapping Tom stories. The scalpers were in evidence, "Any spare Tom Waits tickets" was the call. What a contradiction I though, Tom Waits and spare tickets, a contradiction in terms. I was offered three thousand Euro for a ticket and I told the ticket tout even if he brought me a suitcase filled with a Euro Millions lottery sum, there wasn't a chance in heaven or hell I was parting with my tickets.
There was a sense of anticipation in the air outside Le Grande Rex, of something really special about to happen; something most of us haven't experienced in nearly a quarter of a century. I didn't have any problems retrieving my tickets because I read the anti-scalping conditions and I had my passport id, the internet booking reference and the credit card used to make the booking. I was making sure nothing could go wrong. Unfortunately, the effort to stop the scalpers also meant that the fans spent ages in endless queues, in a hot stickly Paris evening, as people fumbled for id, or in some cases simply didn't have any id. I don't know what happened to those who couldn't comply with the requirements. I hope they eventually managed to gain entry. The delays resulted in doors opening late and we entered the theatre at about 7.50pm, with the show due to start at 8pm.
I never thought I would see Tom perform live again. The last time I saw him perform was in 1982, a long, long, long time ago. Tom doesn't tour very often and when he does it is nearly impossible to get tickets. Here I was, in Paris, in what is without a doubt one of the best live venues in the world. The minute I stepped inside Le Grande Rex, I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed. I took my seat in the second row and spent about ten minutes looking around me in wonder. The stage was beautiful, semi-circular, plush curtains on either side, old fashioned speakers dominated the backdrop behind the bands instruments. Left and right of the stage, up high, were what looked like Roman villas, beautifully lighted. The roof of the venue was black with the night sky's constellations twinkling brightly. Eridanus probably, that's the constellation Tom decreed would determine his tour route through Europe. The venue was intimate, decadent, vaudevillian, and a more perfect venue for Tom would be difficult to find. The venue started to fill up with approx two thousand people, a happy buzz. Every time a roadie stepped onto the stage we cheered, a false alarm and this happened about four times. I think they enjoyed their prank.
It was getting close to 9pm and I thought, Tom, if you don't get on the stage I will be so exhausted cheering at Roadies, I'll have no energy left for you. Just as I was thinking that, the lights dimmed, there was an audible intake of breadth from over two thousand people, the band took the stage, followed a second later by Tom. Well the roaring and cheering that went up from the crowd was unbelievable, tumultuous, it lasted a full five minutes with Tom directing us. Then, Tom stamped his foot into the ground, sawdust soared into the air, at the same time the drums crashed, everyone, to a person, in the audience was captivated. THE WAIT FOR WAITS WAS OVER, at last. He stomped and growled, summoning his voice from the depths of his stomach; I don't know what to call this, there is no genre to adequately describe this music, it was gospel with blues rifts, sublime jazz, rock, it was story telling, it was primeval; it was Tom Waits in full flow.
It's very hard to pick out highlights, every minute was pure magic, music, song, story and theatre tumbling out of him. If I had to choose then the highlights for me were:
Tom pertending he had a glass eye which he bounced about the theatre as the introduction to "Eyeball Kid";
When Tom stopped singing and told us in his own inimitable wry way that we were useless, clapping out of time and putting him off although he realised we hadn't ever worked together before; he told us, he was the conductor, that's why he had the hat and that maybe we should nominate a few of us with a musical background to get us back on track;
When the Band left the stage and Tom on piano and the Bass player were left alone on the stage, sublime & beautiful;
Singing along with "Innocent when you Dream",
Growling along, in as much as I can growl, to "Down in the Hole".
More than two hours and a twenty minute standing ovation later, he left the stage and I was drained. To be honest the whole concert was excellent, I enjoyed every single second and it is a concert I will never forget for as long as I live.
Tom Waits Live @ Le Grande Rex, Paris Friday 25th July 2008, this is the Set List:
Lucinda / Ain't Going Down To The Well No More
The Other Side Of The World
God's Away On Business
Jesus Gonna Be Here
You Can Never Hold Back Spring
Tom Traubert's Blues
Innocent When You Dream
Lie To Me
Hoist That Rag
Lost At The Bottom Of The World
Hang Down Your Head
Black Market Baby
Dirt In The Ground
Make It Rain
Way Down In The Hole
Jockey Full Of Bourbon
Anywhere I Lay My Head