Tom Jones Live!
The Ives Center
Thirty-three years after he burst onto the American pop scene with "It's Not Unusual", Tom Jones is still singing it with the same gusto, the same moves, and, remarkably, the same powerful voice. He's fifty-five years old now, a little thicker around the middle. Years of Las Vegas sun have left deep crevasses in his face and his kinky hair resembles a brillo pad. Yet, he still has power. Maybe it's that certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it's our 90s love of all things camp and retro. Maybe it's that bulge in his pants.
Mary and I caught the stud on his Summer of '98 tour. The place was The Ives Center, a pleasant little ampitheater on the campus of Western Connecticut State University. You could bring your own food and drinks, even booze, into the place, and the crowd consisted mostly of families. Folks from all generations can bond over Tom. Young Billy talks about "the guy in Mars Attacks", Gen X Jennifer recalls Tom's collaboration with Art of Noise for the smashing remake of Prince's "Kiss", and Mom reflects on the black bra she threw on the stage from her front row seat at Caesar's. Or maybe Mom keeps that to herself. There were a surprising number of men at the show, though most were indulging their wives. These people brought huge picnic baskets, elaborate fruit and cheese trays, and wine with corks. They brought real wine glasses from home. They even remembered their corkscrews--they were prepared. I have to say I saw so many obese people at this show, I thought I was back in the midwest. I'm not sure why, but middle-aged fat women love Tom Jones.
Merchandise for sale included the usual t-shirts, cds, and program. I guess the only unusual thing was a small stuffed pussycat wearing a Tom Jones t-shirt. I abstained.
Tom took the stage a little after 8pm and ran through most of his hits: "Delilah" (has domestic violence ever been more exciting? perhaps in The Burning Bed), "Without Love (There is Nothing)", "What's New Pussycat?", his recent semi-hit "If I Only Knew" (off an album with the great title The Lead and How to Swing it), a cover of "I Gotcha", "Help Yourself", "Green Green Grass of Home." He sweated like Fat Elvis (though he was in better shape). And he explained that the object in his ear had to do with the sound system, lest we think "Tommy's losing his hearing."
After intermission, Tom sang: "It's Not Unusual", "She's a Lady" (packed with so many lines that would curl Gloria Steinem's hair, like "She knows what I'm about and how to please me"), a cover of "Walking in Memphis" that made me think about how Tom, Elvis, and Ann Margaret were a love triangle for a while, his cover of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" off The Full Monty soundtrack. For encores, we got Tom's energetic covers of Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way", and "Kiss." During "Kiss", a woman came out on stage and danced with Tom for about thirty seconds. Tom said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Brooke Shields." We were too far back on the lawn to make a positive I.D., but I don't think Tom would lie.
I've seen Tom twice before, and he's been great each time. I can't say he's changed his show much or gone in a new direction, but why mess with a winning formula? We like our lounge acts to be stable, and "Jones the Voice" is perhaps the greatest lounge act in the history of lounging. When he's on stage, even a quiet park in Danbury, CT can be transformed into the big room at the Sahara.
I did learn one new thing about Tom. He dresses left.
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