I’m probably the last person who should be writing a blog about a Tom Waits tribute. I know nothing about Tom Waits. Avi and I tried to dig into this enigmatic artist with a little Wikipedia and YouTube action prior to the show, but he just isn’t the type of artist that can be summed up with a quick summary of his career and a “Best Of” compilation of songs. So we entered into the evening at Casbah ready for a crash-course in Tom Waits. And that’s exactly what we got. Here’s what I learned – Mr. Waits is an incredibly talented songwriter and storyteller, his music spans numerous genres, and his fans are religiously dedicated. His music is also open to interpretation, and all of the artists who performed certainly put themselves into his music and made it their own. And there were a lot of hats worn, which I assume was a little tip of the hat to Waits, as he seems to favour this stylistic accoutrement. I felt a little left out, but my pin-striped blazer would have to do.
The second annual Tom Waits Tribute was hosted by Killin’ Time Band, who played as well as introduced each of the performers. I can’t cite all of the artists with detail, but each act played about two songs and it was a real community of musicians as they paired up or formed groups to hammer out tunes from Waits’ extensive repertoire. We got a little bit of everything, from rock, blues, jazz, reggae, soul, country. Waits transcends genres. Most importantly, however, all proceeds from the night went to Hamilton Mission Services, which was reason enough in itself to attend this event.
Our pals Ghosts of Memphis (Trevor Howard and Gerry Finn) took the stage and performed two very different songs, starting with the beautiful “Ruby’s Arms,” a favourite of Trevor’s, he said, before launching into a more recent Waits tune, the devilish and irresistible, “Bad As Me”. I’m still groovin’ to that one. Trevor and Gerry are a great musical duo and both tunes suited them well. We’re excited to hear more from Ghosts of Memphis as they finish up their upcoming album (which I’ve been following the progress of!)
Tyrone Ramsey and Bonnie Hamilton teamed up, bringing out the soulful side of Waits’ music. Bonnie injected so much feeling into Waits’ lyrics, and it was lovely to hear a female interpretation of his songs. They were accompanied by a trumpet player for their second song, and Avi and I were loving the variety of instruments that were played throughout the night – we got some trumpet, saxophone, accordion, keyboard, drums, a funky-looking upright bass (courtesy of Tyrone) and a plethora of guitars, of course.
We also met local musician and producer Michael Keire, who works out of Threshold Recording Studio. He played drums during one of the sets and we got to chat with him a bit after, learn a bit more about his studio, and express our mutual love for this city.
The fiery Ginger St. James crooned out her covers as only she can. I had never seen her live before but I know of her, so was glad to get to see her signature cabaret style in action. If memory serves, she sang “Chocolate Jesus” (correct me if I’m wrong – I’m new to the Waits catalogue!)
I mentioned Waits’ religiously dedicated fanbase – it was fun to hear the audience’s reactions when they heard which songs were chosen by the artists. Some sets turned into a bit of a dance party. Avi and I had to take a little step back so people could freely bust a move.
I got to meet Darren (Mista D) Dumas, lead singer of The Salads, before he took the stage. The highlight of his set for me was a reggae-infused rendition of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” something I’m sure we can all relate to at times. I really enjoyed his set.
Prominent local blues artist Alfie Smith closed the show. His gruff, soulful, powerful voice lent itself well to Waits’ music. Alfie is another artist on the scene I’ve heard about but hadn’t yet seen perform live. It was the perfect way to end off the night.
It was a wicked show – we certainly got schooled on the world of Tom Waits. It’s a lesson I definitely appreciated, and it’s a world I wouldn’t mind revisiting.