By Miles Baker
If you’re a Tom Waits fan living in Toronto, it’s time to face a harsh reality—with each passing day it’s less and less likely that we’re going to get the chance to see him live. With that in mind, I suggest you go see L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres Performs Tom Waits. It’s not the man himself, but it’s his spirit and his songs manifested before you with great joy and imagination.
L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres are a Quebec-based, self-described multidisciplinary workshop. The group, composed of Bruno Bouchard, Jasmin Cloutier, Simon Drouin and Simon Elmaleh (and joined onstage by the New Cackle Sisters, Gabrielle Bouthiller and Danya Ortman), began as a music ensemble but has gone onto incorporate elements of theatre in their performances.
I’m just going to throw this out there because it will bug Waits purists—four French Canadians sing and talk in the style of Tom Waits. Their accents peak through as they tell Waits-esque stories and jokes. I was skeptical at first, but works for me as a celebration of Waits rather than just a lame imitation.
The set design borrows heavily from Waits’ dust-bowl aesthetic and album art of the last 30 years—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The stage is cluttered with well-worn pans, pots and dishes; a gramophone sits in the back, and the players are dressed in as if they were auditioning to play Waits in a music video. Throughout the show they will wear goggles and gas masks, sing into megaphones and drink straight out of liquor bottles. This is a show developed and performed by huge fans that want to make a big racket and sing some of the best songs ever written.
Speaking of the racket, this show uses a mix of real and makeshift instruments. For example, they use guitars on most songs, but they also built a standup base with a metal washtub, a wooden pole and a string—it’s pretty cool and gets a great sound. On one song, the New Cackle Sisters inflated party balloons then let the air escape into a melodica. I didn’t think it would work but it did. How have I never seen someone do that before?
For me, besides the finale of “Lucky Day,” the staging of which I won’t spoil except to say that it was their most divergent and successful cover, the best song of the night was “Black Market Baby” where the performers put on motorcycle helmets. All four men had a loose, yet coordinated pattern that included Drouin turning his head (his helmet had a three wood affixed to it like antlers), Cloutier would duck, and the three wood would hit the frying pan in Bouchard’s hand. And that was only one small part of the routine—it was hilarious to watch as well as being one of the better covers of the night.
If you’re not a familiar with Waits’ work, I think there’s enough creativity in the performance and visual interest in the set that it would be enjoyable. If you’re a fan of Waits, it’s a must-see show.