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

An Evening of Tom Waits Songs season has ended

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Cohen & Waits

Cohen and Waits provides a one-hour tribute to famed singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits performed in perfectly professional and polished style. For anyone with an appreciation of the works of either Cohen or Waits, this is a must-see this Fringe.

The performers, Rohan and Polly, slip easily into the vocal styles of both individuals – a remarkable feat for performers of such unique qualities as Cohen and Waits. Between songs, both talk freely with the audience and bring the audience in, making it feel even more welcoming and enjoyable.

Mixing the songs of both singer-songwriters, the show provides a good helping of both Cohen and Waits – a highlight being the blurring of lines between them as we are treated to Cohen covering Waits and Waits Cohen.

As both Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen possess such a remarkable set of songs (both in quality and quantity) it is interesting to see how Rohan and Polly make their choices. Selecting an engaging set of songs that showcases the range of both those to whom they pay tribute and themselves. Throw in an original song that carries a significant element of the Cohen or Waits style, and you have a uniquely enjoyable and entertaining show.

Even if you are unfamiliar with Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits’ oeuvre, anyone with an appreciation for excellent music and good performances will find themselves truly enjoying this show. That the show could be such a perfected thing on the first night is worth noting as well. It doesn’t feel so much polished as it does organic. That is not to say that the show is not mounted with stunning professionalism but just that the human element so particular and important to writers and singers like Cohen and Waits is present in this performance. An over-polished result could risk the heart of those great performers’ works but this hits just the right mark to pay tribute to two greats of music in a deeply fitting manner.


Words by Liam McNally

5 stars.

Cohen & Waits is playing at the Gallery Room at National Wine Centre on March 14 & 16. Tickets available here.