We’ve all heard his cheesy slow dance songs and cringed at the ladies man crooning Hasselhoff style sans shirt. Yet when Tom Jones played Gröna Lund in June, curiosity got the better of me and I put my hand up to go. What ensued was THE most surprising 1.5 hours of vocal finesse that had me realign my musical loyalties. I secretly thanked dad for playing me his songs when I was too young to fight back.
I wasn’t sceptical of his musical abilities. It’s about relevance. At the end of the day, his croon fest didn’t do much for a 20-something searching for the musical version of crack. That’s before I heard him live. Or caught wind of his new stuff. Boy was I unprepared for the powerful sensation that is Tom Jones version 2014.
I fought tooth and nail to the front so I could document the concert for posterity (brownie points from the parentals!!!) We got death stared (and told off) by crowds of middle aged women not wishing to relinquish their space. It’s obvious that he’s still got it cos’ those ladies weren’t going to let some younguns get in between them and Sir Jones (Queen Liz knighted him for services to music).
A roar ripped through the the crowd as he stepped out. Gone were the questionable silk shirts. In their place was a black turtle neck, a tasteful yet still “showbiz” shiny black suit and head of white hair. Tom Jones the silver fox now resembles a very distinguished gentleman. Think white Morgan Freeman. AND there was nary a strand of chest hair to be seen (my right brain was very disappointed, my left brain was relieved).
I don’t know what happened next. First he was teaching the crowd some Welsh phrase, the next, powerful gospel came thundering out of his throat in the form of John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell”.
Obviously I had missed the memo on his 360 degree musical turnaround. Known for more lascivious hits like “Sex Bomb”, it was a promise to The King – as in Elvis – during their late night jamming sessions that resulted in the spiritual and gin-soaked blues album that is Praise and Blame (2010). Covering songs by Bob Dylan, The Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson and appearances by Gillian Welch and Booker T. Jones, it has been described as a revelation.
Allison Stewart of The Washington Post calls it an album ” stripped of all fat and reduced to the barest elements … propelled by Jones’s remarkable voice, still a marvel of quaveriness and bluster and sinew after all these years.”
Also, the guy was 70 when it was released. Does that make you feel like an underachiever?
Of course, no Tom Jones concert is complete without his signature hip-gyrating pop songs, delivered in full force much to the ladies delight, set list here. Depending on how you see it, there were no knickers thrown (damn it!) but plenty of “I love you Tom Jones” hollered by, IMHO, near-hysterical women.
He is one of the last true entertainers left. Fifty years of experience helps. But so does boundless energy, a genuine respect for his fans and a passion for performance. AND of course that freaking voice! Only live can you understand the grandiose power and depth of his deep baritone. With an eargasmic gift like that, his backing band feels like garnish – pretty but unnecessary. No offence.
I understand why women loved him – smooth tunes, a wicked sparkle in the eye, leather hips etc. Legend has it that he had TWO dresser rooms, one for entertaining guests, another for group “activities” of the carnal sort. What was surprising thought was the age of the crowd. There were tweens and twenty somethings obviously there by choice who were too young to ever see him at the height of his lady killing days. It seems his appeal just grows with time.
He sang a medley of originals and covers of musical greats like Blind Wille Johnson’s “Soul of a Man”, Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” and Tom Waits “Bad As Me”. He also performed “Evil”, co-written by former White Stripes frontman Jack White. Fast approaching 75, the maestro is not slowing down. He will be releasing his 41st studio album later this year and if his new musical inclinations are a sign, we may expect more vocal revelations to come our way.
Meanwhile, watch this and weep. Next time he comes to town, do anything to see him.