For he is a Rain Dog too: Peter Mulvey performs Tom Waits’ ‘Rain Dogs’ at Oberon
In between moves from the Midwest to Ireland and back again, Peter Mulvey came to rest briefly in Boston, where he found a home for his music.
“I moved to Boston in the autumn of 1992 and became a regular busker at the Davis Square and sometimes the Harvard Square T stops,” says Mulvey. “I quickly got things up and running. My touring life began right around then and I went on the road full time in 1994-1995 — and moved back to the Midwest — but ever since then I’ve always thought about that time.”
Despite his departure, Mulvey has always referred to Boston as his musical headquarters. His 2002 record, “Ten Thousand Mornings” was recorded entirely at the Davis Square T stop, and the members of his backing band, the Crumbling Beauties, all hold Massachusetts zip codes. “It’s become a second home,” says Mulvey. “I live in Milwaukee, but my career lives in Boston. Once you’re on the road, you can live anywhere.”
Though he’s touring across the country promoting his own work, Mulvey returns to town this week to play the Tom Waits’ masterpiece, “Rain Dogs” in its entirety in a special two-day stint at Club Oberon.
“We enjoy this record so much,” says Mulvey. “It’s like a Shakespearean play. No matter how many times you do it, you’re still going to discover something new. There’s a whole world in this record. Have you ever been to a museum and seen people painting a Picasso? That’s kind of what happens when you sit down and learn these tunes. Part of it is the mechanical fascination of this crazy chord progression. Then you get dazzled by all those couplets. In some ways it’s just a songwriter boasting and telling a tall tale, but then there’s a metaphor that goes into surrealism.”
Released in 1985, “Rain Dogs” is Tom Waits’ eighth record — and his biggest push away from traditional piano balladry to avant garde songwriting and obscure instrumentation. It would become the album that provided a new beginning and an artistic redefinition for Waits that would forever alter his work to come.
Mulvey and company have performed the record yearly, and somewhat secretly, at Atwoods Tavern since 2007, but this marks the first time the gang will be backed by the burlesque dancers of Babes in Boinkland — and their first time performing the endeavor at the high-profile Oberon. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything different.
“We don’t rehearse,” admits Mulvey. “We’ve done one rehearsal in our lives. We don’t play the record identically to the way it was recorded. I don’t sound like Tom Waits. The instrumentation is all over the place and our ensemble is just six people. In a way, we approach it like an improvised story. We’re not just playing the songs; we’re trying to capture the spirit. We’re not out to be a tribute act, if that makes sense. It’s more like this is what we do.”