Tom Jones - Live!
The House of Blues
Last night was such a typical girl’s nite out, starting with the 30 minutes we spent kvetching before the show about our recent online dating experiences, at one point coming up with a cumulative total for how many times we’ve all been called sweetie, hon, or pumpkin in introductory emails. I couldn’t help but think about that during the show. I mean, what’s so funny about peace, love and calling her pumpkin in the first email? From someone you love, it’s always a nice kiss on the head. From a stranger, it’s too much, too soon.
And then you have Tom Jones. So smooth after so many years. It was good to see him put on his showman shtick on the Sunset Strip. It wasn’t our typical blue haired Vegas crowd. Here were young boy rocker-wannabies in front of us, trendier-than-thous to the back of us, cryogenically frozen Homecoming queens from 1976 being selfish and bitchy ahead of us, and crying Tom Jones fans-for-life to the right (with their husbands!)...all completely thrilled by the Tom Jones Experience. Uber-sexual, one step short of vulgar – and not afraid to work it for the ladies. The young boys were boisterously impressed.
On the one hand I wanted to say: “Yes, young fellows, Tom Jones has been doing this thing he does for eons, he hasn’t lost it and he knows it – I hope you have been able to pick up some pointers while you’re here.” But then, later in the evening the following show-biz irony occurred to me: I bet you that if one of us were to find ourselves alone in some proverbial dark alley with Tom Jones (and I have a very difficult time imagining this scenario outside of a situation where maybe I was taking his drink order or filling in for his PA during one of his tete a tetes with Jerry Lee Lewis after their Vegas shows), Tom Jones would, I have no doubt, rattle off his James-Bond-like drink order, smile kindly with a sexualized and emphasized ‘thank you’ followed by calling me hon or darlin’ or, god forbid, pumpkin! And my once-sweet, Tom-Jones-loving heart would harden a fraction and I would turn on my heel, shake my finger and declare that only my as-now imaginary boyfriend, my gay male friends from Baltimore, and plump motherly women of color are allowed to call me hon.
He would indubitably roll his eyes and send me, like Cindi Lou Who, back to my room with a pat on the head and a glass of water. There I would fume and plot to throw granny panties at him onstage at the next opportunity. By the way, his eyes bug out for the granny panties just as much as for the leather and lace.
I'm not sure how I'd feel if Tom called me pumpkin offstage. So much of his sex appeal to me is tied up in his voice and performance - I don't know how I'd react to the everyday Tom. Tom Jones up close and personal can definitely make me sweat, as last night proved. This was my 6th time seeing him but being at the House of Blues enabled me to get closer than ever before and it was a thrill to really see him grooving, pelvic thrusting, mugging, belting, and emoting for nearly 2 hours.
It was indeed raining underwear. I noticed they were even selling panties by the door for the women who didn't plan ahead and bring them or became so moved by The Voice that they rushed to the ladies room, removed their own panties, paid the towel lady a buck, and ran back to throw it at Tom's crotch. Speaking of Tom's crotch, the John Homesian bulge I had noticed from a distance at other shows and written acrostics about wasn't so evident last night, although his package was mostly obscured by a longish, sequined Neil Diamond-lite shirt that only offered playful peeks at what lies beneath when he danced around.
And dance around he did, looking somewhere between 70s karate-move-practicin' Elvis, an old man at a rest home social, and a soul brother. Even his "note to self: think I better dance now" awkwardness is endearing to me because he, like most performers of his generation, gives it his all every night. Does he get tired of singing "Delilah" and "She's a Lady"? You wouldn't know it from his playful and dramatic renditions (perhaps simulating cunnilingus after singing "pussy lips" in "What's New Pussycat?" crossed a line but at least he's changing up the performance). He enunciates the lyrics so you can really understand them. Last night was the first time I really listened and realized "Green Green Grass of Home" wasn't about an expatriate returning to Wales but about a condemned man waiting to go home to heaven. The standout performance of the night for me was "(It Looks Like) I'll Never Fall in Love Again", an old song, not one of my particular favorites, but Tom sang it with such passion and force that I believed he indeed wouldn't fall in love again.
I, myself, believe he would indeed fall in love again… with one of his gospel-empowered backup singers after the show. But then, like the panties-for-sale, maybe the show was set up for me to believe those over-the-top gestures of flirtiness were organic and not staged to emphasize Jones’ continued prowess. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom Jones holds meetings once a quarter, sternly telling his roadies “we need to get panties to the people!” and his backup singers “and on this line I’ll swivel my hips and arch my eyebrow at you in a swarthy manner.” And then during the show, as 20-30 panties are hurled upon him (none high enough to snare his afro…wouldn’t that be a score?) he will barely acknowledge them, as if to say, like bugs in the mouth at the outdoor amphitheater, this is simply a hazard of my dashingness and I’ll just muster on as if I didn’t notice…because I am a professional. But then, at the end of the show, he selects the chosen pair of underoos, rubs his chest and forehead with them and throws them back to a maiden for safekeeping in her dining room china cabinet.
Yet even after seeing the puppet’s strings, the show is still a hellavalotafun. Tom Jones sweats for a living and you have to respect that. He still hits the long high notes even if he has to make his eyes pop out to get the job done. He gets the job done is what I’m saying. And there’s something really, really sexy about that. I don’t care how old you are, Tom Jones says you can play for two hours. He’s not doing it for the big bucks anymore. He’s barely out of the I’m-a-Vegas-joke territory. But like a singer shuffling through layers of Victoria’s Secret merchandise while singing “Help Yourself,” he pretends not to notice. Or doesn’t give a hoot, even better. Because he’s taking those panties all the way back to the ego-bank.
There is something so cheesy and wonderful about the act of throwing rock star sweat to the crowd. I often wonder what the recipient does with the sweat-laden garment. Sell it on ebay with a certificate of authenticity? Frame it? Put it under her pillow and inhale it everyday as if she was a huffing addict? I was waiting for Tom to keep up this tradition and he waited until the end of the show and made it a climactic act. There is just something so "Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus" about it. Not that I want the sweaty garment...I just find it fascinating.
What sets Tom apart from the standard "I'm-a-Vegas-joke" performer is that he constantly reinvents himself. I saw Wayne Newton last year and he was croaking through a lot of his songs or talking through them, and there weren't new songs. He still knew how to work the room and it was entertaining, but Tom gives something new every time which is why I keep coming back. Last year in Vegas, he played songs off his then-new album, a collaboration with Wyclef Jean that helped him to express his reggae and R&B side. This year, he's pushing a collaboration with Jools Holland that is a collection of blues and 50s rock n roll covers. He played a lot of those songs and I enjoyed them, even though I don't normally care for the blues. I bought the CD after the show.
I often wonder about Tom's constant touring. Is he like a shark who can't stop swimming or else he will die? I think he just loves performing and the new material keeps it fresh for both him and the audience. He realizes he's been lucky to have such a long career and to play for a living and his gratitude for his fans encourages him to give his all at each show.
Except that these people are not Jesus and so it’s ultimately disturbing. People are so easily confused. I have never found crying hysterics to be at all an appropriate response to artists or entertainers. It’s extreme, somewhere on the other side of gunning down a guitar player. Way too emotional. And ultimately unnecessary. I want to say disparagingly: don’t you have real people to cry over – is finally witnessing Tom Jones sing "It’s Not Unusual" really as life-altering as the birth of your firstborn? It reminds me how isolated from real pathos and sublimity our lives in this modern era have become. But then I slap myself and say, Miss ThinksTooMuch, lighten up! That girl wiping her eyes at the sight of Tom Jones in sequins is just a weepy Edie. Maybe she cries at weddings, too.
However, one thing I am unrepentantly curmudgeonly about: The House of Blues Sunset Strip. From the bottom of my heart, I hate this venue. It hard to get to, you have to pay too much to park too far away, and it attracts the worst crowd imaginable – so offensive, in fact, they continually detract from the shows. I have never had a problem with people wedging in front of me or dancing drunkenly into me at The Roxy. After shows at HOB, my dislike for people is constantly reaffirmed. Case in point, last night, three 50-something, overly-quaffed Hollywood ladies elbowed, danced into, and annoyed every patron in their vicinity and then closed ranks like a pack of mussels on a rock when anyone else tried to so much as pass through them to get to the bathroom. They refused to even let friends re-connect with other friends if it meant having to stand one inch farther away from Tom Jones.
These debutantes, who arrived late, received nothing but chilly stares and returned elbow-jabs from us. They then proceeded to animatedly befriend some frumpier gals stage-center who had been waiting patiently for hours to get their good spots. With fake smiles, the glitter girls complimented the blinking toy ring of a large Tom Jones fan, and I mean large in all senses of the word. Ten minutes later, the beauty-blights betrayed this large fan and her other frumpy pals by stepping right in front of them and pushing them back into the middle of the crowd. And then, to add insult to injury, the petite princesses started dancing with reckless abandon, pushing the gang of frumps back even further! It was like watching a tragic high-school drama replayed where the frumpy girls are so entranced by some fake attention from the popular set, they get suckered…and they never seem to fully registered they’ve been suckered.
At a club in the East Village, some earrings would be coming off, I tell you what.
Typical self-absorbed, get-over-yourself, Sunset Strip nonsense. Although I loved seeing young upstarts and men and women my age tuning into Tom Jones with bellows and cheers, I’d still prefer to see him with the polite and lusty blue-haireds of a Vegas showroom where I can sit in a curved booth and sip my cloudy-blue cocktail in peace.
What about the guy who looked like Lemmy from Motorhead, with mutton chops, long hair, and tattoos? He gave Tom the devil-horn sign of heavy metal approval. Tom really does appeal to all sorts. I think rockers admire the voice and the command of the stage as well as sex appeal that makes Mick Jagger look like Dick Cheney in comparison.
I've got no problem with The House of Blues, except for the high drink prices. I'm an "in the pit" kinda gal, so I like having the chance to get close enough to maybe catch the sweaty handkerchief/panties, although I don't really want to catch it (kind of like at weddings when I don't want to catch the bouquet but feel obligated to stand in the pack of rabid single gals vying for it). I thought Tom seemed more vital in the small club setting and like he was getting a kick out of watching the crowd dance and move around. It had to be more interesting for him than the staid Vegas theater crowd, where the occasional old broad hoists herself out of the booth, approaches the stage, tosses panties, returns to comfy booth. It's probably been a while since he had a hysterical crowd reaction, and this crowd wasn't totally hysterical, but they were fired up. I like seeing him in Vegas too because it's "so Vegas" to see him while sipping drinks at a table with strangers. But this was a real kick.
I guess you could call me an occasional old broad. Which must be why Tom Jones makes so much sense to me.
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