An Evening of Tom Waits Songs

Sunday night at the Gov saw a gruff-voiced, Betty Grable shirt-wearing Stewart D’Arrietta pay homage to Tom Waits in a two and a half hour show aptly titled ‘Belly of a Drunken Piano’. In true Waits style, the singer slurred his way through stories with punch lines in between piano-playing ballads like ‘Kentucky Avenue’, a song about a neighbourhood full of people up to no good but really they’re just people.

I find it amazing that a song with lyrics like Eddie Grace’s Buick got four bullet holes in the side / And Charlie Delisle sittin’ at the top of an avocado tree / Mrs. Stormll stab you with a steak knife if you step on her lawn / I got a half pack of Lucky Strikes, man, so come along with me can be so full of beauty and nostalgia, but that’s what Waits does. He’s the crooner of the red light district, the poet laureate of drunkards and freaks, and D’Arrietta got everything right. Half-way through the show it occurred to me that one of the greatest miseries of my life is not having seen Tom Waits live, which I think is a testament to D’Arrietta. He played the part and sang the songs so sincerely and with such profound sentiment that he had me in a state of longing. Does that normally happen at Fringe?

SA Music Hall of Fame inductee Rob Pippan on guitar, Shaun Duncan on the double bass and Matt McNamee on the drums gave D’Arrietta and his keyboard centre stage and became that smoke-hazed lounge room backdrop of a band this type of performance demands, subtly seen though indispensible when you’re grooving along in your seat to ‘Romeo is Bleeding’ or having a shake in a dark corner to ‘Way Down in the Hole’. Other highlights were ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking’, ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’, ‘Martha (Closing Time)’, ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’ and ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)’, which is that heartbreaking song that has the ‘Waltzing Matilda’ refrain throughout, perfect for an encore.

Call-outs to Bruce Springsteen and Charles Bukowski didn’t go unnoticed, and I think Waits would’ve liked them. Perhaps, too, D’Arrietta’s few originals. I thought one had a slightly Elton John-caught-up-in-Waits feel to it, interesting enough for me to search up more of his originals when I got home. For the record, Stewart D’Arrietta’s good when he’s doing Stewart D’Arrietta, too. And apparently he’s very good as Leonard Cohen, which was another show he did as part of the Fringe, and quite the busy man this past month, he also accompanied Australian actor and musician John Waters in the Fringe’s ‘Lennon – Through A Glass Onion’. I considered both of those shows when I first got out the Fringe guide and a felt-tipped pen but I couldn’t go past Tom Waits, my absolute favourite, but even if I hadn’t have been familiar with Waits, I still would’ve loved the show – the whole atmosphere was infected with a gritty kind of class – and I no doubt would’ve left a fan.

5 / 5 stars


Words by Heather Taylor Johnson

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