; Tangled Up In Blue: Tom Waits Does Broadway (Kind of..)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Tom Waits Does Broadway (Kind of..)

Looking for the Heart (and Rasp) of Tom Waits

By Rob Kendt
The New York Times

Got a frog in my throat," Stewart D'Arrietta said with a cough last week near the end of his splendidly imperfect Tom Waits cabaret act, "Belly of a Drunken Piano." Recognizing that as a serious understatement, he added, "I got a whole reptile park in there."
In this case that's not self-deprecation. Dressed in a cream suit and a chocolate fedora, the wiry Mr. D'Arrietta cuts a figure closer to William S. Burroughs than to the vulpine Mr. Waits. But when he's growling and howling his way through the three-decade Waits song catalog, Mr. D'Arrietta musters a gripping, uncanny imitation of Mr. Waits's trademark rasping roar.
Elsewhere Mr. D'Arrietta, an Australian, does a passable impression of Mr. Waits's warmer, mellower tones, and he faithfully recreates a few Beat-style spoken-word riffs, flecked with slight traces of an Aussie accent.
Mr. D'Arrietta's own between-song patter is more variable, and includes some hoary jokes and stories from his life as well as from Mr. Waits's. He's a genial master of ceremonies, and he touches rock-solid emotion when he dedicates a few songs to friends. But he stumbles with stabs at drollery or commentary, making genital-themed jokes about the president and the pope and recalling a piano teacher with a "flatulence problem."
At its best, though, "Belly of a Drunken Piano" takes us squarely into Mr. Waits's wee-hours world, with its many shapes and shades: from weepy-drunk soliloquies to screaming blues stomps, from cackling chanteys to rain-slick word jazz. Backed by a snappy trio of double bass, drums and electric guitar, Mr. D'Arrietta is a middling pianist, banging away on a gutted, tuneless upright whose sustain pedal seems stuck.

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