Swordfishtrombones Revisited – National Concert Hall – 29/10/19 – Review
Tuesday 29th October 2019
As part of the Perspectives Series
David Coulter was once more the man behind this night following on from his interpretation of Rain Dogs in 2011. Coulter is an “English-born multidisciplinary artist, musician, composer and director”, who has performed with the likes of The Pogues, Tom Waits, Kronos Quartet, Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono. For this night, David was part of a seven piece band, who performed alongside an impressive list of vocal artists, including Dorian Wood, Soap&Skin, Nadine Shah, Lisa O’Neill and Matthew E. White.
Swordfishtrombones was the 7th studio album by Tom Waits and was released in September of 1983, some 36 years ago! The album itself was a departure for Waits and moved away from piano based songs to something quite unique. It featured a wide range of instruments including glass harmonica, metal aunglongs and marimba, among others. While the album impressed critics, it only reached number 164 in the album charts. It went on to be included in the top ten albums of the year by NME, and is widely considered one of the best albums of the 80s.
While the seven piece band stayed quite close to the original arrangements of the songs, the vocalists in no way tried to imitate Waits’ singing voice. This meant the songs were unique versions, unlike anything from the album. The night featured all 15 tracks, including the three instrumental tracks (Just Another Sucker on the Vine, Dave the Butcher and Rainbirds).
Some highlights from the night included Lisa O’Neill’s version of Underground, Dorian Wood’s booming voice on ‘Down, Down, Down’ and Matthew E White’s version of ‘Soldier’s Things’. There was a quite unusual version of Frank’s Wild Years by Nadine Shah, in her normal accent from the North of England. She seemed more at home with her rendition of ‘In the Neighborhood’. Soap&Skin found the perfect song for her vocal range with ‘Johnsburg, Illinois’.
There was even room for a two song encore, where they moved to other songs from Tom’s repertoire. This included a dazzling version of ‘You’re Innocent when you Dream’ by O’Neill and the final song of the night, ‘The Earth Died Screaming’ by Wood. While some of the songs missed the original vocals more than others, you’re very unlikely to ever get the chance to hear Tom Waits sing them live. This night truly was the next best thing!
David Coulter musical director, musical saw, guitar, percussion
Nadine Shah vocals
Matthew E White vocals
Lisa O’Neill vocals
Dorian Wood vocals
Terry Edwards – saxophones, trumpet
Dave Okumu – guitar
Tom Herbert – bass
Pete Saunders – piano
Thomas Bloch – ondes martenot
Seb Rochford – drums