Monday, December 8, 2008

The Spin: Tom Waits Tribute Night at The Basement

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 10:24 AM

click to enlarge 3rd-annual-tom-waits-get-behind-a-mule-tribute-at-the-basement.2819874.36.jpg

Photo by Steve Cross.

For more photos, see the slideshow.

Our sources tell us that a packed crowd gathered for The Basement's "Get Behind a Mule" Tom Waits tribute, eager to see early acts like songwriter David Olney. Nevertheless, the time The Spin arrived--certainly not "late," but at a suitably festive and convivial hour--the crowd was sedate and moderately sized.

For those who did remain (they included a preponderance of dudes in hats), there was good stuff to come. The first band we saw was Korean Is Asian, who performed with violin, guitars, keyboard, standup bass and drums. They mostly stuck to Waits' more pensive material, like "Waltzing Matilda," and did a good job of capturing the songs' gritty sentimentality. They closed with "Chocolate Jesus."

As Chris Crofton took the stage, Tom Waits' voice warned over the Basement's sound system that "I'm so horny, the crack of dawn better be careful around me" (Nighthawks at the Diner).

After declaring himself to be our "late night evening prostitute" (The Early Years), Crofton reflected that many Americans have never even heard of Waits, and so "we can just feel cool, even if we're watching substandard performances."

Surely he didn't mean himself? Following "Prostitute," he had prepared a capella versions of two numbers, a bold choice that apparently caused him some anxiety: "Fuck, this is gonna be hard." We tried to encourage him, but our inspiring words ("that's what she said!") went unheeded. Crofton's heartfelt delivery came across well in this unadorned context, and he mostly refrained from performing the songs in a Tom Waits voice.

He didn't need to, since the singer for Ballhog, the next band, had a quite impressive one. Ballhog played with a full band including mandolin and standup bass, and did a version of the rollicking pirate song "Singapore." As the crowd thinned out, they were followed by Afton Wolfe, who included another Waits sound-alike! Their set included a moody take on "Heart Attack and Vine." As the evening wound down, the Basement's Dave Noel noted that the annual tribute night "started out as a drunken joke." That's where most good ideas come from, so we hope they'll keep the tradition going.

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