Rain Dogs was Tom Waits’s ninth album, released on Island Records in 1985. Its 19 tracks brought a wide range of instruments together, from congas to accordians, to give an intimate portrayal of the New York slums. Waits wrote most of the album in a basement room at the corner of Washington and Horatio Streets in Manhattan. It was, Waits has said, “kind of a rough area, Lower Manhattan between Canal and 14th street, just about a block from the river.”
Tonight at the Barbican, 26 years on from its first release, the album will be re-imagined. Multi-instrumentalist David Coulter is directing Rain Dogs Revisited in which a range of singers, from Swiss American soul-rock singer Erika Stucky to The Tiger Lillies (an eccentric British trio whose drum-kit is entirely made of silverware and spatulas), will be performing their own interpretations of the album.
The evening also features Irish cabaret singer, Camille O’Sullivan, who has starred in the Olivier award-winning La Clique and has long included in her solo performances dramatic interpretations not only of Waits’s work, but also of music by Radiohead, Nick Cave and David Bowie. Talking ahead of the concert, O’Sullivan commented on Waits’s “great variety within his albums… you could do three or four Tom Waits songs side by side and you wouldn’t know they were by the same person.” She is a long-term fan of Waits – drawn to the drama and darkness within his music, as well as his gravelly voice: “I think he’s enigmatic and an amazing writer. He’s got a real understanding of getting into an emotion – either in a mad zany way, or by writing some of the most beautiful love songs.”
O’Sullivan herself is known for her charged performances and the way she immerses herself in the story of a song. Waits provides the perfect material: “He creates wonderful song monologues… Not being a songwriter myself, that’s all you can latch on to – that there’s a narrative in there.” But she also acknowledges that she has to make the tales her own. The worst tribute to an artist is to mimic their distinct style. As a devoted fan, O’Sullivan has seen Waits in concert many times: “He’s wonderful to watch perform – he’s almost like a mime artist.”
Rain Dogs Revisited is performed at the Barbican tonight (13 July), with tickets priced at £15-25