Does Anyone Put On A Show Like Tom Waits?
February 18, 2011 8:18 AM   Subscribe

When Tom Waits plays live, he really puts on a show- with banter, jokes, stories, etc- as you can hear in the opening to "Nighthawks at the Diner". Does anyone else perform in this style- in the sort of jazz bandleader/comedian role?

I've been listening to "Nighthawks" a lot, as well as a couple of Waits live bootlegs, and I've been developing a really appreciation for this style of performance. Is there anyone else who performs like this- just gets up on stage and puts on a show for an hour or however long?
posted by 235w103 to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Warren Ellis (this example is sort of a tame, blunted song intro from him, probably 'cause it's on TV—works better if you're crammed into a tiny art space with the band and he can go on at length on the song titles.)
posted by carsonb at 8:28 AM on February 18, 2011

Arlo Guthrie always was a spinner of tales as he gave a show.
posted by Freedomboy at 8:34 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've only seen the Tom Waits movie, but I'll put my vote in for Jonthan Richman.
posted by princelyfox at 8:35 AM on February 18, 2011

I agree with freedomboy. I saw him a couple years ago and he was so entertaining. I had a great time.
posted by afton at 8:36 AM on February 18, 2011

He's dead now, but the last time I saw Gregory Hines his show was banter, music, dance, and because his bread and butter was tap, and tap is kind of a niche market, it was integrated heavily with local talent, including lots of kids. Kind of an "okay, here's your homeboy, I'm gonna step back and sing a song and let him show you what he can do".

I don't go to a whole lot of live performance that isn't a couple of local folks in a cafe or bar, but from the higher end of that to pretty much in anything you'd call a club venue, I think that the intermixed banter is pretty much what everybody does.
posted by straw at 8:39 AM on February 18, 2011

I was very pleasantly surprised to experience the onstage persona of Antony Hagerty, of Antony and the Johnsons. He's personable, and very funny, and seems to want to share contexts that make his music much more approachable. I know - his voice is not for everyone, but his live performances are actually very entertaining.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 8:41 AM on February 18, 2011

I've never seen Todd Snider live, but I've heard a few live shows, and he might fit the bill.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:43 AM on February 18, 2011

Lou Reed's "Take No Prisoners" has some of this kind of thing,
posted by chrchr at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2011

I'll second Jonathan Richman and throw in Robyn Hitchock (when he performs solo, at least).
posted by dfan at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2011

I haven't seen her perform in years, but I recall Ani DiFranco's shows being a bit like this.
posted by gnutron at 8:53 AM on February 18, 2011

Greg Brown is known for this as well. His live album is packed with great stories and comments.
posted by elendil71 at 8:53 AM on February 18, 2011

Robyn Hitchcock does this - plenty of examples are up at the Internet Archive.
posted by Madame Psychosis at 9:02 AM on February 18, 2011

I've seen a couple of Webb Wilder shows. At the first one, his banter between numbers was at least as entertaining as the songs themselves (and some of it was as carefully rehearsed—he almost had an auctioneer's patter going). At the second show, he was much more down to business. You get a little bit of this banter on the album It Came From Nashville.

Also dead, but Warren Zevon had a good rapport with the audience at the shows I saw. One show was (oddly) at a heavy-metal bar. He spent some time playing a piano provided by the bar, some on his 12-strings. He didn't like the piano. When he played Werewolves of London, he scolded the audience for not shouting the "perfect" line with more gusto: "we're going to do it again, and if you're not…perkier this time, I'm going back to the piano."
posted by adamrice at 9:13 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Michelle Shocked.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:14 AM on February 18, 2011

Chris Isaak
posted by banshee at 9:29 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Surprisingly, Natalie Merchant was also very funny when we saw her perform this past summer.
posted by bearwife at 9:34 AM on February 18, 2011

Phish does this all the time.

For instance...
June 17, 1994 - During the first set break the band went backstage and watched as OJ Simpson was on TV running away from the cops. Nobody in the audience had any idea of what was going on. The entire second set they played songs rewritten on-the-fly with lyrics referencing OJ Simpson. It wasn't until everyone went back home and saw the news that they got the joke.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:57 AM on February 18, 2011

Paul Thorn, indie Americana artist.
posted by raisingsand at 9:59 AM on February 18, 2011

Ben Folds tells stories and jokes around a lot during his shows. He also sometimes puts a laptop on his piano and sings about whatever comes on the screen. Check out some of his concert videos on You Tube.
posted by jacindahb at 10:00 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, Billy Joel tells great stories during his concerts.
posted by jacindahb at 10:01 AM on February 18, 2011

John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats can do this from time to time, but it's a real crapshoot. He's not in Waits league, but he's a lot more talkative than some of the other artists I've seen.
posted by valkyryn at 10:17 AM on February 18, 2011

Glenn Tillbrook, Amanda Palmer, and Neko Case all do this to varying degrees in their live shows. Maybe they're a little more brief in their stories and jokes, but they definitely bring more than just the music.
posted by activitystory at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2011

Thirding Robyn Hitchcock. His strange, funny and often surreal banter has entertained every time I've seen him live, both solo and with a band (probably a dozen times dating back to the early 90s)

Elvis Costello is currently touring with a show that promises to be rather carnival-esque - Looking forward to catching him when he comes through Boston.
posted by jalexei at 10:43 AM on February 18, 2011

Utah Phillips was as much a storyteller as a folk singer, though his shtick was more "Wobbly raconteur" than "bandleader/comedian."
posted by twirlip at 10:59 AM on February 18, 2011

Hamell on Trial does something very similar.
posted by notbuddha at 11:00 AM on February 18, 2011

Seconding Todd Snider. I almost like his stories more than his songs.
posted by Brodiggitty at 11:03 AM on February 18, 2011

Leo Kottke does this in a droll, deadpan Minnesotan way as he tunes his 12-string guitar.
posted by umbú at 11:19 AM on February 18, 2011

Definitely Warren Ellis, though his banter is a little wilder than Waits. Incidentally, Nighthawks at the Diner kind of a faux-live album--it was recorded in a studio with a small number of invited guests. Hence the knowing laughter when Waits says "How's the service in here? It's all right--they give you a beer and you don't gotta pay or nothin'."

There's a fantastic bootleg from the same era called "Heart of the Shaboo Night"--lots of the same songs as Nighthawks, but really live and with alternate and extended banter.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2011

Can I plug a guy named David Berkeley? Always an amazing songwriter/singer but an engaging storyteller as well. He just returned from living in an obscure village in Corsica where he wrote his latest album. He actually wrote a book about the experience to go with the album. Catch him now and enjoy his stories of being an incapable man in a tight-knit traditional village where he neither spoke nor understood the language. You'll enjoy the between-the-songs time as much as the songs.
posted by lpsguy at 12:22 PM on February 18, 2011

Neil Finn does this to varying degrees (whether he's playing solo, with other musicians, or as part of Crowded House), but it seems to happen most especially when he's performing with his brother, Tim, as part of Finn Brothers -- they're riotously funny together. Great storytelling and banter.

And I haven't seen Billy Bragg in years, but he certainly used to do this sort of thing in concert as well; I imagine he's still got some stories and rabble rousing in his repertoire.
posted by scody at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2011

Tori Amos. Colin Hay from Men at Work (I've never seen Men at Work, but he definitely does this at his solo shows). And yeah, Robyn Hitchcock.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:29 PM on February 18, 2011

I don't know what his current shows are like, but take a listen to B.B. King's album Live at the Regal for a great example of this. He has em eating out of his hands on that one. The shrieks from the audience give me chills every time I listen.
posted by malapropist at 4:14 PM on February 18, 2011

Leon Redbone puts on a great show.
posted by harmfulray at 7:46 PM on February 18, 2011

Robert Earl Keen and Steve Earle are both master storytellers, in song and onstage.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:48 PM on February 18, 2011

Not as elaborate as the Tom Waits sample, but Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is known for telling humorous anecdotes and musical background details on stage. In particular, he does a pretty funny introduction of his expanded band lineup during their acoustic tour a few years back. May Does contain coarse language.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:05 PM on February 18, 2011

I just saw Dan Bern live last night, and he talked and joked through his whole show, often interrupting songs for anecdotes. It was the best concert i've been to in a long, long time. This isn't really a good example of his banter, which was hilarious last night, but I can't find anything better on YouTube.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:40 PM on February 18, 2011

Anton (Brian Jonestown Massacre)
posted by a non e mouse at 3:25 AM on February 19, 2011

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