Space Theatre, Thu Jun 12
The characters that inhabit Tom Waits’ songs and the theatricality of their settings make them perfect material for a cabaret show. And for some reason the words and melodies masked by the growlings of the impossibly gravel-voiced bard assume a new life and resonance when taken on by the female voice; particularly when the voice belongs to someone who understands them as well as Alison Coppe.
Having seen Waits himself perform many of these songs in Adelaide some years ago, I can attest that he would milk these songs for all they were worth with a range of stage props – such as petrol bowsers – for maximum entertainment value. There was none of this tonight. Coppe and her impeccable band opted for formal suits and a nightclub setting and let the performance of the songs do the entertaining. And entertaining it was!
Whether it be the tender frailty of standout Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis or the snaky blues of Heart Attack And Vine Coppe and band proved they could deliver the songs of Tom Waits with authority and panache. A personal first was seeing musical director Aaron Nash taking on piano duties with his right hand while playing drums with the left, but that was typical of the high level of musicianship on display tonight.
One difficulty in putting a show like this together is the enormity of Waits’ back catalogue. There is a heavy focus in this show on the earlier ‘Nighthawks At The Diner’ era of Tom Waits, with songs like Jersey Girl and Ol’ 55. There is a nod to recent material with Come On Up To The House from ‘Mule Variations’, but in the context of presenting a cabaret show called New Coat Of Paint I guess there is a consistency in choosing songs from that era.
Between songs Coppe seemed less assured than expected. Perhaps it was just nerves in presenting the show to such a large audience, but there is surely room in such a show for her to develop a larger than life persona as a Waits-like master of ceremonies. If it was trepidation, she need not have feared. The audience were on their feet in large numbers at the end, calling for more, and expressing their appreciation for an excellent performance. No doubt Alison Coppe will present New Coat Of Paint at some point in the future. When she does, go see it!
by Adrian Miller