I think the last show I saw at the Edinburgh Playhouse was Les Miserables, back when I was in high school. The 3,000 capacity theatre is no less an architecturally impressive venue now as it was then, although shoehorning myself into its seats is a little more difficult these days. The darkness, heavy curtains and smoky atmosphere (provided these days by dry ice machines, thanks to the smoking ban) set the scene perfectly - if we weren’t half a mile up into the air in the “cheap”, or at least £75, seats we could almost have convinced ourselves we were in some western wine bar with table service and a solitary piano. Clutching the cardboard chapbooks we were sold in place of programmes, we took our seats in plenty of time for the billed 8 o’clock sharp start… and waited.
And waited some more. For it wouldn’t have been right, after the sky-high ticket prices and the tight security we had to go through in order to even get there, for the legend that is Tom Waits to be early. His first show on Scottish soil in, I am led to believe, 23 years, the evening promised to be something very special.
When the houselights went down and the band moved into position in the shadows, all eyes were on the figure at the microphone in scruffy suit and pork pie hat. That famous gravelly baritone sounds even gruffer in person, and at first some of the lyrics to the many songs I didn’t know were lost in the massive venue, but it didn’t seem to matter. For the first part of his set Waits played the role of the vagrant jester, almost mute between songs but lapping up the wild applause of us devoted fans with wild, encouraging gestures.
The second part of the night was perhaps the part I had anticipated the most. Moving over to piano, the lights down even lower, Waits picked out by a couple of spotlights which streaked by our heads up above like moonbeams. The mute comic persona gave way to the barfly, making wild observations about spiders and praying mantises that his wife made him promise not to tell. None of it makes any sense in the morning. For the first time the crowd, who saved their wild appreciation for when the band finished playing, were invited to sing along to “Innocent When You Dream”. It was magical.
The evening finished with Waits on guitar, praying for rain while glitter showered on him from above - but not before an amazing double header of “Hang Down Your Head” and “Green Grass”. Watching an artist with a back catalogue as wide and varied as Waits’ means your favourites will undoubtedly be missed, but although there was much I didn’t know last night I didn’t feel short-changed. A brief encore, and the lights cheekily kept off a little longer than they needed to be afterwards, we were out into the night in time for the last train.
Last Year's Girl