Italy to Knoxville “Glitter & Doom”

The Adventure’s Not Over Yet!  (We have tickets to see Tom Waits!!!) 

{Reposted from my original 2008 trip journal and reflections in 2009}

Goin’ Down South – When Mike (the friend who turned me on to Waits in the first place) first emailed me about the Tom Waits “Glitter and Doom” summer 2008 tour (with subject line: Tom on tour… go now!), I knew we’d be in for an experience. The tour is also code named PEHDTSCKJMBA. Tom Waits doesn’t tour that often, and when he does the likelihood of the performances being in our backyard is slim – if we can get tickets at all.

Most of the dates were during our vacation, leaving us three choices – OH on 6/28, which would be awfully close to our return to the US, and could be impossible if our flight was delayed; TN on 6/29, a 12 hour drive, still close to our return, but a little more reasonable; or the following weekend in Florida, which would probably require a flight, but Audra couldn’t go because of rehearsal. I really wanted us to go together.

So we settled on Sunday 6/29. The second that the online box office opened we set our clicker fingers into motion and miraculously got a total of four tickets. We were now committed. It was hardly believable that we’d spend over two weeks abroad, then return to travel nine hours to a concert, but was one of those things we jus had to do. Mike was a long time travel companion (see our Las Vegas journal) and we knew we could handle it.

While we were still in Italy, Mike got rooms at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Knoxville, within walking distance of the venue. Well, originally he got one room, thinking we wouldn’t mind saving a few dollars and being in the same room. We quickly warned him (via an Internet café in Positano) that we were getting road weary and it was better for us to have our own room. After returning from Italy, we agreed to meet Mike in Hazleton and leave at midnight on Saturday to allow enough time to find the venue and check in. Audra was still on Rome time for some reason, so she was able to take some of the driving shift to get us down to TN. It was a straight shot down I-81.

I had transitioned to PA fairly easily, so I spent the trip in a daze trying to sleep in the backseat. Every few hundred miles I would awake to a fuzzy scene of a gas station or truck stop, with Mike telling some story about sideshow performers and Coney Island. Somehow this was all appropriate given who we were going to see.

In Virginia, we tidied up and had breakfast at an IHOP. Once into Tennessee, Knoxville was easy to find (Mike’s GPS helped), and we found the hotel and venue quickly. We couldn’t check in right away, so we explored downtown Knoxville. Knoxville is a bit like Bloom in that it is a college town, with lots of nice little shops. Audra compared it to Stage College, with its youthful, artsy vibe. A highlight was a print-making shop that makes old-time signs. We had a very good lunch at Tomato Head near the town square, recommended by the locals.

Upon check-in we took much-needed showers and attempted to get a nap before the show. Audra needed the sleep more than I did. My body now knew it was daytime and thought I should be awake. Besides, the excitement was a bit too much for me, so I didn’t sleep much.

We had a warm but pleasant walk to the venue. When we arrived I learned that they were not allowing any photos (even without flash), so I had to walk back to the hotel to deposit my camera. By the time I returned I was soaking wet, so it was a good thing they were selling t-shirts – otherwise I wouldn’t have a clean change of clothes the next day.

The shirts were, at best, a perfect example of how famous people can market just about anything and get away with it. The gray, black or white shirts featured oil stains that Tom Waits had photographed himself. Now, I love Tom, but any pre-schooler could have spilled paint or drawn the same thing. Still, we’d fork out our $20 each to have a piece of Tom Waits history. And maybe that is the point that Tom is making. Also on offer was a chapbook of a self-interview (which is posted on the web at

Our seats were – in a word – awesome. The best that we’ve had for any concert ever. The house seats about 1800 people and we were less than 10 yards from the stage. Tom did not go on until 8:30, possibly by design, and possibly because the people buying beer and drinks took so damn long to sit down. That was my only real criticism of the evening.

Even if I had pictures, they really could not convey how great the show was. The sound was nearly perfect, though it took a while for them to mix the bass player properly and the percussion was not quite as adventurous as in past live recordings. What really made the whole night for me was Tom’s persona and how he interacted with the staging and lights. As his stomped his foot, dust came up out of the floor and wafted back into the shadows. Small beams of light hit a mirror-ball hat sending sparkles into the audience that you felt you could grab. The tones of green and red were intense and otherworldly. At one point – possibly my mental residue from flying, or a trick of the eye from the fog and twilight – the stage actually appeared to shift clockwise for a moment.

Musically the group was tight, except for one foible at the beginning of one song that Tom handled well with some humor. The group responded well to each other with dynamics and precision. The stories Tom told were accompanied by the usual ethereal background noise and strange lighting. At one point a single flickering light bulb descended from above while the rest of the stage went black. We learned of the source of the term “graveyard shift” and “dead ringer” and were encouraged to purchase our own individual ladders to combat the Chinese who may be doing the same thing and preparing to create tectonic shifts by jumping off of them. We had our three minutes of fame with a sing-along too with Innocent When You Dream.

Setlist from Eyeball Kid (abbreviations are album titles)

The Part You Throw Away (BMo)
You can Never Hold Back Spring (O2)
Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis (BV)
God’s Away On Business (BMo)
Metropolitan Glide (RG)
9th and Hennepin (RD)
Fannin Street (O2)
On the Nickel (HAV)
Come On Up to the House (MV)
Cold Cold Ground (FWY)
Rain Dogs (RD)
House Where Nobody Lives (MV)
Hang Down Your Head (RD)
Trampled Rose (RG)
Get Behind the Mule (MV)
Eyeball Kid (MV)
Chocolate Jesus (BMa)
Lucky Day (BR)
Black Market Baby (MV)
Jesus Gonna Be Here (BMa)
Innocent When You Dream (FWY)
Falling Down (BT)
Lie To Me (O1)
Make It Rain (RG)
Lucinda / Ain’t going down to the well (O1)
Way Down in the Hole (FWY)

The Band:

Patrick Warren – keyboards
Omar Torrez – guitars
Vincent Henry – horns
Casey Waits – drums and percussion
Seth Ford-Young – bass
Sullivan Waits – congas and clarinet (and selling t-shirts and books after the shows…)

After almost three hours we were starving so we found a sushi place nearby and had a great meal basking in the glow of our first Tom Waits concert. It was totally worth the trouble to get there. Mike commented that there were some percussion instruments left unused, and I too would like to have seen Tom play more percussion, but this is a small quibble. He focused on what he does best – sing and lead a group while at the same time creating a mood. It was without a doubt one of the top seven shows of my life, next to my first concerts of these artists:

Jethro Tull (Tower Theatre, Philly) – First time I saw them in the mid 90s.
Zakir Hussein (Painted Bride, Philly) – Bulu was with me and we met him.
Whirling Dervishes of Rumi (State College)
Tibetan Monks (Whitaker Center, Harrisburg)
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (HAAS Center, Bloomsburg)
Eugenio Bennato (Positano, Italy)

I see a trend there, as the first of anything is bound to be very good, given the excitement.

The next day we had breakfast at Tomato Head donning our Waits t-shirts (along with half of the other people in town) and then left for home. We stopped in Harrisonburg Virginia to have dinner at Clementine, a trendy fusion bar/restaurant and also a music venue.

Returning to Hazleton around 11:30 pm, it was hard to believe we still had another 45 minutes until we could be in our own house, in our own shower, in our own bed. It was so nice to be back. As much as we love traveling, and as much fun as we had, it was now time to be home.

Note: NPR posted the Atlanta, GA concert online.


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.