Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner

Sam Adams

By Sam Adams

on 10.24.11 in Reviews

Nighthawks At The Diner

Tom Waits
Conjuring a world as seductive as any film noir

The best of Waits’s early records captures him in front of a live audience at the fictitious Rafael’s Silver Cloud Lounge, actually a recording studio turned into a makeshift speakeasy. Like the setting itself, Waits’s booze-addled persona is both real and staged, a performance so effortless that it seems to inhabit him rather than the other way around. Apart from the bachelor anthem “Better Off Without a Wife” (memorably covered by Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley), the songs lose something out of context, but they thrive in Nighthawks‘ tobacco-stained atmosphere. Waits’s interstitial patter is as engaging as the songs themselves, rife with hepcat lingo and dive-bar jokes. The supple jazz quartet are clearly in on the joke; Jim Hughart’s upright bass acts as a counterpoint to Waits’s sleepy drawl. Prefiguring the otherwordliness of Waits’s later recordings as well as his interest in theatrical spectacle, Nighthawks conjures a world as seductive as any film noir.