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TOM WAITS is one of the truly great artists of our era: he and Frank O’Brien have been for my generation what David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust were for the generation that came to music-consuming maturity in the 1970s. This is Big Time, which captures Waits at his very best, touring in 1988 promoting the Frank’s Wild Years album. This is avant-garde, this is Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis on ass-twisting Acid, this is Harry Partch and Howlin’ Wolf and Astor Piazzolla and Kurt Weill, this is role-playing and story-telling and cabaret for the David Foster Wallace generation—the Frank’s Wild Years album, you may recall, was subtitled “Un Operachi Romantico in Two Acts”, which might well be DFW pieces in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.*

The final two shows of the tour—at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco and the Wiltern Theatre in (Waits’ home-patch) Los Angeles—along with snippets of footage from the performances in Dublin, Stockholm and Berlin, make up the concert content of Big Time. The film’s segues might have been done by David Lynch (they’re not, of course, the film was directed by Chris Blum—although, apparently, the whole thing was very much a Kathleen Brennan project—I’m just sayin’ they seem Lynchesque to me, is all).

Particular highlights (if you’d like a steer) include

Down in the hole 0:10:50 (0:10:05 if you want the intro with it); which became the credits-music for HBO’s The WIRE

Cold Cold Ground 0:23:45

Straight to the Top (Vegas) 0:28:00

More than Rain 1:11:50 (1:10:39 if you want the intro with it)

Only innocent when you dream 1:17:10

*Waits describes Frank O’Brien as follows: “Quite a guy. Grew up in a bird’s eye frozen, oven-ready, rural American town where Bing, Bob, Dean, Wayne & Jerry are considered major constellations. Frank, mistakenly, thinks he can stuff himself into their shorts and present himself to an adoring world. He’s a combination of Will Rogers and Mark Twain playing accordion—but without their wisdom. He has a poet’s heart and a boy’s sense of wonder with the world. A legend in Rainville since he burned his house down and took off for the Big Time.”

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