Without ever experiencing any drastic change in persona, Tom Waits has spent the last 35 years amorphously progressing, worming from one variation in sound to another, his style remaining largely intact. This restlessness has allowed for one of the most continuously revelatory aspects of his later career: his skill at transforming an increasingly ragged voice into a more and more fearsome instrument. On Real Gone, this was achieved through a grab bag of wheezy effects, beatbox percussion, and barking, staccato delivery. Glitter and Doom Live isn’t as stocked with such tricks, but it’s still a wonder how forceful and ferocious Waits sounds live.
That same transformative hand dips into the live compositions of these songs, often swirling them into a barely recognizable state. Waits doesn’t like to tour (the Glitter and Doom Tour was an abbreviated jaunt), and this distaste seems understandable, judging by the amount of work he puts into remixing himself. Similar to the scattershot reconstruction of 1988’s Big Time, eclectic redressing is favored, enlivening some songs and hampering others. The set here is strange and varied, with favoritism paid to his last two albums, the B-sides collection Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards and Real Gone, but no real affection for fan favorites or hits. The choices are often puzzling: There are three songs from 1992’s Bone Machine but none from more recent albums; his fruitful ‘80s period is almost entirely unrepresented.
In terms of presentation, nothing really approaches the opening salvo of “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down,” the first of many reworked songs, which combines the sparest parts of two very different melodies (both off the Brawlers disc of Orphans) into a shuffle-and-stomp experiment that tilts back and forth from a boozy hobble to a wild, harmonica-blasting chorus. “Metropolitan Glide” transitions from a lurching, sputtering instructive dance to a nearly incomprehensible thorn bush from which horns jut out at all angles, and at key moments in the chorus, organ trills replace the words.
It’s an interesting but strange sensation to have an album deprive you of the very moments you expect it to provide. The usual thrill of a live album comes from slightly tweaked familiarity, but Waits treats his songs like old cars in need of new engines. It’s a decision that’s ultimately more rewarding, turning Glitter and Doom into an album that basically amounts to 80 minutes of new material.
The second disc is comprised of a 35-minute story-time session, which is less rewarding than it could be, since Waits, like the strange, grizzled uncle he increasingly resembles, tends to repeat his stories. This means that his mix of bizarre facts and charming lies, about turkey vultures and strange local laws, is studded with anecdotes he’s been pawning off for years on late-night shows and in print interviews. This makes them feel a little shopworn but also allows for a homey fluency. Endlessly restless as Waits remains, his stories give him a place to relax, providing a welcome respite of familiarity in an album full of foreign sounds.