Known best for saccharine pop hits such as “What’s New Pussycat?” and “It’s Not Unusual,” both of which he played during last night’s two-hour concert at Hard Rock Live, Welsh singer Tom Jones, who looked rather distinguished in a tight-fitting black suit, emphasized his serious side at last night's rousing performance.
Accompanied by only his guitarist and drummer, Jones emerged on stage under a single red spotlight to deliver a haunting, Black Keys-like rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell.” The band then slowly matriculated onto the stage to perform a cover of the traditional tune “Run On" and the Odetta song “Hit or Miss,” which Jones delivered with particular defiance, talking his way through some of the song’s lyrics.
The full nine-piece band finally emerged to deliver a jazzy rendition of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me not Come,” a tune driven by a talented horn section. Jones introduced the gospel number “Didn’t It Rain” by reminiscing about the days when he would hear Elvis Presley sing gospel standards during after hours parties in Vegas. His dramatic rendition of “Delilah” brought the capacity crowd to its feet for the first time, and he kept the energy going strong with a cover of the standard, “St. James Infirmary Blues.”
The concert’s climax came during the middle of the show. Performing with a stripped down version of his backing band, Jones delivered the menacing “Soul of a Man” with real gusto, tapping into the song's dark themes. That segued into Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” a track about the King’s untimely death, and the Leonard Cohen dirge “Tower of Song.” When Jones sang, “I was born with the gift of a golden voice” in his distinctive baritone, the audience applauded enthusiastically in response.
Crowd-pleasers such as “What’s New Pussycat?,” “It’s Not Unusual” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” followed. Jones then concluded the set with the high energy “I Wish You Would.”
The encore featured his cover of Prince’s funky hit “Kiss,” which he delivered with spirited accompaniment from his horn section, and the anthemic closer, Sister Rosetta’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”
Through it all, Jones’s baritone never faltered, and his stellar band never misfired. While the man might not shake his hips and strut his stuff with quite the same agility as he once did, he still puts on a helluva show.
At the concert's start, he promised he would "do it to it," and the veteran singer certainly did just that.