After more than 20 years, old Tom proves his show is certainly worth the Waits

Tom Waits, Edinburgh Playhouse.

IF YOU want to be in Tom Waits's gang, it's quite easy. Just be among the first few thousand adherents prepared to cough up 100 or thereabouts for a ticket, stipulate the name of your guests (and no changing your mind at the last minute, as sick notes will not be accepted), pack your photo ID and, who knows, maybe even succumb to fingerprinting or DNA profiling as you wait in line.

Only once you pass all these obstacles may you enter the Glitter and Doom auditorium, smug in the knowledge that you are among the lucky few fans in the UK to get to witness the Tom Waits live extravaganza.

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Last night's and tonight's shows are the only UK stops on the tour. So the ticket price was steep and the anti-touting measures were stringent. But there were probably many in the audience who would have crawled over hot coals if that were an entry requirement to catch this old junkyard dog's first Scottish appearance in more than 20 years.

Immediately this felt like a special event. In place of the usual glossy tour programme, there was a slim booklet containing quirky insights into the world of Waits, courtesy of his answers to such questions as: "What's wrong with the world?" and "What is the origin of the word bedlam?"

The stage was evocatively lit and dressed with Waits jugband paraphernalia and an installation of loudspeakers. He eventually arrived, 30 minutes late as is his custom, to an ecstatic standing ovation, which he was happy to orchestrate.

In his trademark bowler-hatted vagrant chic, he attacked the performance as a piece of theatre, stamping around in the dry ice on his carousel podium. His well-worn but well-loved persona was part silent-movie clown, part street-corner preacher and part barfly raconteur, while his excellent band poured further personality into every note. Whether striking up a lively polka, or some lopsided snake-hipped blues, or injecting pathos into the lurching fairground lament Falling Down, their palette of sound was endlessly fascinating.

His well-documented love of vaudeville shone through on a very endearing comical love song with interpretative dance moves worthy of Pan's People at their most literal.

Next he moved to the piano and made a huge theatre feel like a tiny club with his silly jokes and poetic observations. Waits is hardly a conventional crooner, but he had tenderness and soul to spare. Way Down in the Hole was given a loose-limbed jazzy workout by the band, standing out among the more downbeat material in the latter stages of the gig, before a glitter shower rounded off this fascinating journey with an unexpectedly showbiz flourish.

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