All Photos by Ehud Lazin
Drums and guitar played alone on a darkened stage as Tom Jones entered, singing John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell.” At 76, he looked trim in a blazer and jeans, his dark curls cropped close, his sandpapery baritone as vigorous as ever. He has enjoyed 36 Top 40 hits in the UK and 19 in the U.S. since 1965’s “It’s Not Unusual.” Back then, some considered Tom Jones cheesy, as if that kind of masculinity couldn’t be real. In 2016, our culture has finally caught up with his manliness. In concert, Tom Jones is a fine pop singer, a smart and funny performer and an utterly honest artist who addresses the tough emotional questions.
“I think we were looking for God in Sin City,” he mused, sharing wistful memories of hanging with Elvis in Las Vegas, singing Gospel songs into the wee hours. The folksong “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” once covered by Odetta, suited Jones perfectly, backed by mellow accordion and bass. He followed with Odetta’s “Hit Or Miss,” about the decision to believe in God and in oneself. This topic, already well-explored by him in several albums, clearly still moved him. Jones was born to sing Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” underscored by Simon Johnson’s fine guitar work and witty riffs on Henry Collins’s tuba. Collins switched from trumpet to tuba throughout the set. Drummer Gary Wallis led the excellent band. “This is a proper theatre,” Jones stated, “It was built for music.” All lyrics were clearly audible, especially on the spiritual, “Didn’t It Rain.” “Listen to it rain,” he chanted softly, “some moanin’, some groanin’, some cryin’, some prayin’.” The crowd roared as he sang “Sexbomb.” On the screen, his early videos played silently on vintage TVs, sending off sparks. Quite right, Sir Tom. Discussing his 2015 CD, The Long Lost Suitcase, he named the song, “Tomorrow Night,” as a favorite of his wife, who passed away in April 2016. Jones sang it in a beautiful country arrangement with accordion, fiddle, guitar, trumpet and trombone. Collins’s tuba was fun and frisky in a folksong covered by Elvis, “Raise a Ruckus Tonight.”
“Green, Green Grass of Home,” “What’s New Pussycat?” “It’s Not Unusual” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come” were all warmly received. “Delilah,” originally a waltz, stopped the show in a sparkling Latin arrangement. Well-deserved encores included “Thunderball” (John Barry and Leslie Bricusse), “Kiss” (Prince) and “Strange Things Happening Every Day” (Sister Rosetta Tharpe). No panties were thrown onto the stage during this performance. Some women danced with their arms over their heads. Before long, they all sat down, not because this was a mostly older audience, but because the seats are some of the most comfortable in any venue. The preposterously pretty Beacon Theatre, with its oversized gold statues and over-the-top Greek decor, was built amid the outsized prosperity of 1928, a year before the stock market crashed. In 2016, the Beacon shines like new, beautifully maintained with excellent acoustics, a palace fit for a titled talent like Sir Tom Jones.