By: David Schultz
Roughly ten minutes before Tom Jones took the stage at New York City’s Terminal 5, one of the biggest misconceptions about his concerts had been disproved. Based upon some shoddy information and possibly my own wandering imagination, I had been led to believe that the crowd would be populated with more cougars on the prowl than the South American plains. The Welsh-born superstar still attracts his share of rabid female fans but they now bring a spare pair of panties to throw at the stage instead of removing the ones they came with. Imagining an arena full of randy cougars gone wild probably serves as a metaphor for the show itself: the idea of seeing Tom Jones in concert was actually more fun than actually seeing him.
Tom Jones comes from the same school of performing as Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and even Liberace; they know that a concert is also supposed to be a show and that a fine voice and a charismatic personality trumps flashy guitar solos and overblown stage theatrics every night of the week. Remaining true to that tenet, Tom Jones manages to defy classification and in many ways he transcends cool. Terminal 5 may not have been the ideal venue for Jones: the sound mix at the beginning overwhelmed the voice that everyone came to hear and more than half of Jones set wasn’t designed for a crowd watching from their feet. Then again, Jones has always had that twinge of hipness that makes his appearance on a stage that’s held Iggy Pop, The Hold Steady and Vampire Weekend not as oxymoronic as you might imagine.
At the core, Jones’ allure is that he’s a showman and for the first part of his set, he seemed disinclined to put on a show. Singing, as opposed to presenting, the songs from his latest album 24 Hours, the first forty-five minutes plodded melodically but uncomfortably along. Aided by Jones’ lack of true enthusiasm, (he had plenty of the plastic kind), the warmed over blues, disco and easy listening did little to prompt any real excitement. Once he started entertaining, his charisma and powerful voice, which still remains strong, carried the day and you got a taste of the legendary performer.
Eyes beaming like he’d had one Red Bull too many, Jones flashed glimpses of the swarthy Welshman that could bed the entire front row but there were also bits of stilted dancing that made him the Vegas version of Dan Aykroyd’s male prostitute Fred Garvin. With the exception of a section of the balcony infested with cougars, Jones seemed to have trouble making eye contact with the audience. Perhaps used to playing bigger rooms, he knew how to entertain the crowd but didn’t seem to have the intimate knack for getting them involved that you would expect from a veteran performer.
It took a while for Jones to get warmed up and he closed the show with a run through many of his tried and true hits. On surefire crowd-pleasers like “She’s A Lady,” “It’s Not Unusual” and “What’s New, Pussycat,” Jones was in all his Vegas-style glory. The recital of many of the songs seemed a little too well-rehearsed but retained enough looseness to remain fun. Jones ’ hair and beard are streaked with a little more gray than in recent years and his set length may be whittled to under ninety minutes but Jones knows how to finished strong. Prior to closing the night with hip-shaking covers of “Venus” and his Art Of Noise inflected version of Prince’s “Kiss,” he found a time capsule and broke out some vintage dance moves on “Leave Your Hat On.” When you see a 67-year-old singer earn his thrown panties instead of getting them tossed his way solely on his reputation, you’ve seen something inspiring.