‘Rain Dogs’ A Perfect Blend of Music and Flesh (4.5 Stars)

Rain’ Dogs – Featuring the Music of Tom Waits; Performed by Peter Mulvey and The Crumbling Beauties with Babes in Boinkland. At Oberon, 2 Arrow Street Cambridge May 16 & 18th.

Some things just seem to go together. Coffee and cigarettes, whiskey and cheap cigars. And now, appearing at Oberon Friday and Sunday night, Tom Waits and burlesque. Or more accurately, Peter Mulvey and The Crumbling Beauties performing the music of Tom Waits accompanied by the Lipstick Criminals (formerly Babes in Boinkland), one of Boston’s premier burlesque troupes.

The music of Waits often sounds like it was influenced heavily by strip joints and I can say that on some authority, having snuck into the Intermission Lounge in the Combat Zone when I was just 17. There was a guy playing the organ, a stand up bass player and snare drum player. And strippers. So the Oberon show was like a trip to the early seventies for me, with WAY better music and far more attractive female performers than I recall from my Combat Zone days.

Mulvey and his band played the entirety of Waits’ seminal 1985 album, “Rain Dogs” (19 tracks), accompanied by burlesque routines by the Lipstick Criminals and the results were incredible. The only thing that could have produced a more appropriate atmosphere for the music would have been if the room were full of cigarette smoke like the old (emphysema) days. The Crumbling Beauties were able to create the sound of that album, which used a lot of non-traditional instruments like marimba, accordion, double bass, trombone, and banjo, by one-upping Waits with an even stranger collection of sounds. Matt Lorenz played (at different times) a saw, sousafiddle, a hammer, a bucket, and a rusty chain, and also hooked up some discarded duct work to create some fascinating sounds that were perfectly integrated into Waits’ works.

Band leader Mulvey captured the essence of Waits – not as an impersonator, but as interpreter of his songs, with an appropriately whiskey-and-cigarettes rasp when needed.
The band was first rate, and was further enhanced by Barry Rothman, who created a cacophony of sounds using a phonograph and an effects machine, and also played clips of radio serials, noir movies, 40’s and 50’s radio spots between songs.

The Lipstick Criminals added a completely different dimension to the mood of the evening, with numbers choreographed by the troupe to coincide with the music. Directed by Vanessa White (aka Sugar Dish), this is the same troupe that delivers the alternative holiday favorite, ‘The Slutcracker’ and the results were perfect. White and her six partners in crime took full advantage of the layout of Oberon, performing routines not just onstage but also on the catwalks above and in the center of the tables where they tantalized the customers up close. There are some great numbers, in particular the “Rain Dogs” piece where the Criminals dance in short rain jackets with camisoles underneath wearing dog masks, as well as the uber-sexy final two numbers.
This is truly a great show, particularly for Waits fans. Thursday’s performance drew a mix of middle-aged (50’s) as well as a significant hipster presence, and it drew a standing ovation from the crowd. For more info, go to: http://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/rain-dogs-0