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L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres Perform Tom Waits - review

L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres Perform Tom Waits - review

I was really looking forward to this show. So what went wrong? Why was it the worst thing it could be…boring?

I previewed L’Orchestre and I interviewed the lead guy, Bruno Bouchard. I thought they would be great. And I want to acknowledge that the night I went, lots of people thought they were. About half the audience got to their feet for a standing ovation. So my disappointment was far from universal. Although, when half the crowd gets to its feet and the other half doesn’t, I think it means the other half have conclusively decided not to stand up. I was not on my own.

Charm free. That’s the simple way to put it. L’Ochestre d’Hommes Orchestres, the orchestra of “four one-man-bands” (and two women) from Quebec, play a show of Tom Waits songs. It’s supposedly a tribute. But that’s exactly what it isn’t, because this show manages to eliminate almost all the things that make Tom Waits great.

This show manages to eliminate almost all the things that make Tom Waits great.

Sure, they’ve nailed the gruff voice, they’ve got the whack-bam rhythms, the disheveled stage presence, the unusual instruments. But, surprise, it turns out none of that adds up to much at all.

They’ve dropped the sentimental melodies. Those glorious, cheesy, heartfelt, ironically knowing tunes. Instead, it’s endless rattle and thump. So all the songs sound the same.

Worse, they’ve dropped the purpose. Waits sings of hopeless love, loneliness, the losers and the lost, the hesitant and yet determined human spirit dealing with all the shit of the world. He’s also the scourge of poseurs everywhere. These guys didn’t notice any of that. They just pose, making clever noise.

Worse again, they’ve lost the personality. Tom Waits, he’s that stray cat that twists around your legs and then jumps on your face, and you can’t help but fall for him. He re-aligns your sense of what’s worthwhile in the world. He makes you care. He’s funny, he’s ridiculous and he makes you feel you’re in a special place. Tom Waits opens your heart.

These guys? It’s just a whole lot of mannered faux-frantic stage business. Some of it is funny, but all of it is soulless. The women are sidelined; the men are going through the motions. They think they’re charming, which blinds them to how not true that is. They toot on each other’s horns and bang each other’s drums, they throw spaghetti and confetti about, they pop streamers and wear silly things on their heads, and the more they do all this the less seductive they get.

Worst of all? You get the sense they know it. It’s preposterous. What these guys do should be riotously good. In the hands of people who cared about connecting with an audience, it would be. But they’re just playing with themselves, there’s a word for that.

Anti-music, that’s what this is. It got me a bit angry.

L’Orchestre D’Hommes-Orchestres Perform Tom Waits, Q Theatre to March 24.

Theatre