Tom Waits’ career has moved on quite a way since his heady early days back in the seventies. Then he was a heavy drinking jazz-tinged crooner and with the smirk of a demon out on parole, he took over every stage he set foot on.
Waits is now a more genial, wisened icon of music but in 1977 when he was invited on to the legendary German music show Rockpalast the crooner was a rebel through and through. He walked with the magnetic draw that is normally afforded to gas leaks near open flames.
That’s not to say in 1977 Waits was a rag-tag affair. No, that era would come later after Swordfish Trombones and Rain Dogs. This performance sees Waits walk the delicate tightrope of having the world at his feet and always seeming like he was right on the cusp of misplacing a step and losing it all. The invite to Rockpalast would be another opportunity to see his fiery performance on the silver screen.
Rockpalast is a German music television show that broadcasts live on German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). The show started in 1974 and continues to this day catching the cutting edge of music. Hundreds of rock and jazz bands have performed on Rockpalast including Roxy Music, Patti Smith and many more favourites.
Waits takes his rightful place behind the piano and allows his band, Frank Vicari, on Sax, Dr Fitzgerald Jenkins III on bass and Chip White on drums to fill in the gaps, leading them with every growling note from his mouth.
Let us quickly put this into perspective for you. Though Waits may now have transcended his jazz pigeonhole in 1977, as punk swirled around the globe, jazz was far from en vogue. Still somehow Waits managed to gain a place on the leading rock television show in mainland Europe, not only that but perform a mammoth set.
If you ever needed proof of just how Waits managed to do it then, as they say, the proof really is in the pudding. O rin this case, the footage below. The performance the singer gives is nothing short of electric. Charged with malicious intent and a one might imagine a few whiskies, Waits pulls out some gems like ‘I Wish I Was In New Orleans’ and ‘Bad Liver and a Broken Heart’, all while keeping the audience wrapped around his little finger.
It was a sign of things to come. It was a show of Waits’ innate strength as a performer which would see him transcend genre with ease and become everyone’s favourite gravelly crooner. Below watch Tom Waits perform at Rockpalast back in 1977