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Horns blaring, swearing

D.on Darox and the Melody Joy Bakers evoke the wild preaching of Tom Waits

D.on Darox and his band thrive in the sordid shadow of Tom Waits. Courtesy photo

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When people think of Tom Waits, they generally conjure up a picture of the junkyard-instrument-wielding madman and, perhaps, rightfully so. After all, I was first introduced to Tom Waits through his 1988 concert film Big Time, when he was already almost a decade into his initial foray into experimental insanity. The film is as much a document of performance art as it is a musical artifact, capturing music largely taken from his trilogy of offbeat ‘80s oddities Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Franks Wild Years. Big Time depicts a side of Tom Waits that always lived on skid row, never had a straight job, was always surrounded by carnies and schizoid ne'er-do-wells, and could only perform in speakeasies populated by eccentric vagrants.

But there are really three periods for the artist, beginning with the singer-songwriter troubadour of ‘70s Tom Waits (when he'd sit at a piano and bust out jazzy tunes with a voice miles away from the gravelly tone he'd eventually make his trademark), on through the ‘80s weirdness, and into the period in which we currently reside, starting out in the ‘90s, when howling nightmares and paranoia became Mr. Waits' bread and butter. Still, the image that Waits created in the ‘80s was a powerful one, accentuating his signature rasp with elements of carnival sounds, Eastern European folk, homemade instruments, New Orleans funeral dirges, salsa, and a whole slew of esoteric genres to create an otherworldly vibe that has inspired a generation of musicians.

It's from this Tom Waits mode that D.on Darox and the Melody Joy Bakers take some of their inspiration. Based in Ventura, not far from Waits' native Los Angeles, the Melody Joy Bakers embody a sound popularized by many gypsy punk bands that emerged in the wake of Tom Waits: rave-ups in waltz time, New Orleans mojo, squealing trumpets, woozy accordions, a preoccupation with baptism and death, and a growling frontman make up the DNA of this outfit. On many of the songs featured on their recent LP Tango, D.on Darox and his bandmates call out the formality of their sound with titles like "Waltz in A min," "Tango: Intermezzo," and "New Orleans Diddy." One of their songs, called "Down to the River," is the spitting image of a Satan-obsessed Tom Waits, encouraging the listener to enjoy their cigarettes and whiskey, but warning them that their soul belongs to someone else.

Vaudeville and cabaret, as they are with Tom Waits, are a huge influence on D.on Darox and the Melody Joy Bakers, with D.on serving as the master of ceremonies, frequently utilizing calls and responses with his band, creating a fundamentally theatrical performance. Other gypsy punk mainstays have their touches felt here, particularly with Gogol Bordello; for as much doomsaying as Tom Waits did, he was never much of a hellraiser - D.on Darox, meanwhile, takes Gogol Bordello's lead and tries to make just about every song bring the whole damn building down.

It seems so natural for D.on Darox and the Melody Joy Bakers to take their stab at "This Little Light" that it's kind of shocking that they actually do. As D.on and his band scream out about letting this little light of theirs shine, it becomes quite easy to imagine a band marching into the darkness of a train tunnel as their voices echo into the vastness of an empty night. It's a fitting close for Tango, also reminiscent of the end of Waits' Rain Dogs, "Anyway I Lay My Head," which similarly painted a picture of a funeral march trailing off into the distance, with horns blaring and onlookers swearing. Without copying, D.on Darox and his band cut a fine figure in the shadow of Tom Waits.

D.ON DAROX AND THE MELODY JOY BAKERS, Monday, June 27, 10 p.m., Cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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