Professor Pinkerton Xyloma and the Dead Man’s Carnival bring their unique, Tom Waits’ themed variety show to the historic Collingwood Arts Center on Sunday, December 17. The three-hour show, a play in six variety acts, is a homage to the play and album Franks Wild Years by Waits. It features six musicians playing an assortment of instruments: guitar, bass, banjo, brass and reed sections, not to mention a pump organ from the 1880s, and a grand piano.
“We could’ve toured with a keyboard,” Professor Pinkerton Xyloma said, “but that wouldn’t be true to the spirit [of Waits’ music].”
Frank’s Wild Years
True to the Vaudeville form, Professor Pinkerton Xyloma’s Dead Man’s Carnival is a varietal theatrical production featuring ventriloquism, magic, burlesque and more. Classic songs from the Waits’ canon, such as “Hang on St. Christopher,” “Straight to the Top,” “Innocent When You Dream,” and “Telephone Call from Istanbul,” will accent, linking the acts into a unified, cohesive play. Each of three sets runs an hour, with an intermission.
The themed tour was conceived to “honor the myth” and “capture the spirit” of Franks Wild Years for the record’s 30th anniversary, Xyloma said. Released on August 17, 1987 by Island Records, a sprawling work of theatrical collaborations— including work with Waits’ wife and long-time collaborator, Kathleen Brennan— the songs were written for a play, penned by the couple, of the same name and subtitled: Un Operachi Romantico in Two Acts. The play premiered at the Steppenwolf in Chicago and was directed by none other than Gary Sinise.
The album is held by many to be one of Waits’ best works. Many of the songs have been re-recorded by artists such as Rod Stewart and Steve Earle, as well as used in television and film including The Wire, Homicide: Life in the Streets, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
Xyloma said he’s studied extensively for this 12-date midwestern tour, including reading and rereading every Waits’ interview he could get his hands on. This isn’t the first time Professor Pinkerton Xyloma’s research and knowledge have come into play in his musical career. For a short time, he brought his early 20th century musical expertise to the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to teach rock and roll history students about turn-of-the-century musical forms as well as jazz and blues.
A history buff, Xyloma said he was particularly excited for the production’s performance at the Collingwood Arts Center: “We’ve been there before, and I made it a point to make sure we came back. There’s a lot of history to take in.”
Xyloma is a full-time entertainer based out of Milwaukee, specializing in “tones of antiquity” especially roots music. He legally changed his name to “Professor” and is quick to point out that the title hasn’t been honored by any academic body “as of yet.” The change of name is a nod to the early jazz and blues musicians of New Orleans, who referred to each other as “professor” when they were sufficiently skilled at their craft. Xyloma, for years a professional musician and entertainer, said the Dead Man’s Carnival has been playing their Vaudevillian brand of original and cover tunes for a decade.