By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Venue: Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida-May 10, 2019
Sir Tom Jones at age 79 is nothing short of an international pop music icon—numerous Grammys, Brit awards, a Las Vegas mainstay, film and TV appearances, and in recent years, a staple on The Voice UK. His 55+ years career made him a household name in the 60s, not to mention the reputation as a “sex symbol”, since ladies were known to throw bras and panties on the stage, as he gyrated and belted out ballads in that wondrous baritone voice. As a kid, I remember hearing about all the ladies swooning upon hearing “It’s Not Unusual” or “What’s New Pussycat?” His show This Is Tom Jones was a family favorite and his albums were regularly played on the family stereo. Mom loved the crooner and finally got to see him in all his glory in Detroit circa 1970.
After the onset of hard rock and metal in the 1970s, Sir Tom Jones played mostly Vegas and was thought of as “your mama’s sex symbol”, however, in the late-1980s, he re-emerged with his massively popular version of Prince’s “Kiss”. In the late-1990s, he covered Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat Only” from The Full Monty and later released his self-penned disco-funk dance number “Sex Bomb”.
Sir Tom Jones arrived to Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida, to a sold-out show with surprisingly, equal proportions of men and women. Not only were there a lot of couples but concert-goers in their teens and 20s attended the show with their parents.
Sir Tom emerged on stage with a purple sport coat and black pants, looking very dapper and hip, with his mustache and goatee. Yes, his hair is grey, but he still oozed sex appeal with his blue eyes, tanned skin, and infectious smile. Flanked with an eight-piece band, which appeared to be darkened with blue lights, the man of the hour shone brightly with a white spotlight, that followed him on stage. During the evening, beautiful graphics were displayed on screened panels at the rear of the stage, adding to the visual entertainment and enlivening the songs.
Sir Tom Jones began with blues by singing John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” followed later with “God’s Gonna’ Cut You Down” and Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” As a man who knows how to work an audience, he had them eating out of his hand! Between songs, he relayed funny anecdotes about his long career, including one about his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan show in 1965 (they wanted him to not dance sexy), and he responded, “Didn’t you say the same thing to Elvis in 1956?” In 1967, The Ed Sullivan Show wanted him to change a line in “Delilah” since it suggested ‘she spent the night with a man’. He responded, “Yes, why do you think he killed her?!” The audience roared with laughter!
What was really enjoyable about the show were the new versions of classic songs like “Delilah” with a Latin, salsa flavor and “It’s Not Unusual” with a bossa nova beat. During “Delilah”, a man a few rows in front of me waved the Welsh flag, and Sir Tom responded by speaking Welsh to him. During the concert there were screams of “We love you Tom!” and the two buxom 50-something blonds that sat near me screamed like teenagers every few minutes, while waving miniature Welsh flags.
A few highlights that touched me during the concert were Sir Tom singing “Soul of a Man”, which featured a cross on the screen, and candles flickering for Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”. Sir Tom declared, “This is the story of my life.” Accordions and tubas pumped away as the audience sang “What’s New Pussycat?” I was blown away all evening by Sir Tom Jones’s voice, whose baritone had perfect pitch, velvety nuances, power, and could easily hit high notes with pronounced sustain. He truly can sing any song put in front of him! He can blow away any rock singer today and his voice is absolutely perfect for blues rock and R&B. He doesn’t have to rely on electronic enhancements or Auto-Tune because it is perfect—and at his age, rivals a 20-year old! His voice is truly a natural-born gift so no wonder he was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006.
Other well-received songs, including many standing ovations, ensued during the evening as Sir Tom Jones sang “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “Green Green Grass of Home.” The white soul singer totally rocked and rapped with “If I Only Knew”, which made me totally chair dance, and “Wish You Would”, with its cool harmonica accompaniment, showing that Sir Tom can sing any rock, blues-rock, or blues song—and make it better than the original. The concert was memorable and will always hold a special place in my heart, as I remembered the grand music of the 60s and heard probably the best voice on the planet today.
- Burning Hell (John Lee Hooker Cover)
- God’s GOnna’ Cut You Down
- Mama Told Me Not to Come (Randy Newman cover)
- Did Trouble Me
- Raise a Ruckus
- Sex Bomb
- Take My Love (I Want to Give It All to You) [Little Willie John cover)]
- Did Trouble Me (Solomon Burke)
- Soul of a Man (Blind Willie Johnson cover)
- Tower of Song (Leonard Cohen cover)
- Green, Green Grass of Home (Johnny Darrell cover)
- What’s New Pussycat?
- It’s Not Unusual
- You Can Leave Your Hat On (Randy Newman)
- If I Only Knew
- I Wish You Would (Billy Boy Arnold cover)
- What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong cover)
- Kiss (Prince cover)
- Strange Things Happen Everyday (Sister Rosetta Tharpe cover)
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