Tom Jones House of Blues May 4, 2014
If, as Lord Nelson once remarked, our reputation precedes us, then Tom Jones' rep must enter the room a couple hours in advance. It would at least partially explain the 90 minute wait time between the doors opening at the House of Blues and his eventual entrance.
What gets lost in all the tales of tossed undergarments, tight pants, and famous flings is the fact that Jones really is one hell of a singer. After a brief career downturn in the late 70s/early 80s, has been a steady touring presence, and judging by Sunday night's stop at the HOB, the 74-year old has no intention of slowing down.
Judging by the number of panties tossed on (or near) the stage, that's probably a good thing.
I should also note I'm forcing myself not to make any "it's not unusual" puns for the entirety of this review. You're welcome.
This show stood out from many I've seen in several respects, not the least of which was the age of the crowd. I've been attending and/or reviewing concerts now since I was 14, and this has to be the first I've seen that had not one but *two* ADA seating sections. Several in the audience used walkers, and I saw at least two with portable oxygen tanks.
Which is why the announcement that doors would open at 7, but Jones wouldn't go on until "about 9" was a bit of a surprise. Plenty of folks looked like they'd have a hard time staying upright for an extended period of time, but they [mostly] proved me wrong. Such is the power of Jones' powerful baritone and the HOB's plentiful libations.
Not to mention all the Viagra, which no doubt helpfully opened up the blood vessels to the legs and feet.
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Jones emerged at 8:30, clad in black, his now white hair a nimbus back lit by stage lights. He opened with a relatively mellow number, a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song." a tune testifying to the the role music has played in Jones' life (he famously spent two years in bed recuperating from TB, with little to do but listen to records and the radio).
Jones is touring in support of his latest release, Spirit in the Room, an album of covers ranging across the entire musical spectrum. Odetta's "Hit or Miss" from the album came next, while others covered in the set included Blind Willie Johnson ("Soul of a Man"), Jerry Lee Lewis (closing number "End of the Road"), and Richard and Linda Thompson ("Dimming of the Day"), with Jones giving each of these a uniquely soulful rendering
And "soul" was what it appeared a lot of the Real Housewives of League City weren't expecting. "It's Not Unusual," arguably Jones' most famous cut, was the 18th song he sang, and came with a muted intro (Jones' four-piece backing act lacked a horn section) that caught many off guard. Before that, we heard other Spirit tracks such as Tom Waits' "Bad as Me," which Jones introduced by praising Waits' songwriting skills. This almost felt like an apology to the audience for the song's bawdy lyrical content.
Jones' kept the banter to a minimum, pointing to various enthusiastic audience members in what I can only hope was the septuagenarian version of David Lee Roth's groupie selection technique. He did describe Houston's HOB as "one of the nicest Houses of Blueses," emphasis on the "nicest," leading me to conclude he was talking about the female talent. So, congrats, H-Town.
All that said, going almost an hour before a widely recognizable song (1968's "Delilah") found the audience tuning out somewhat, especially during bluesier numbers like "Burning Hell" ("This is a John Lee Hooker song," he said to an audience probably largely unaware of who JLH was) and "Lord Help."
Speaking personally, the highest points would have to be "Thunderball," the theme to my favorite Connery 007 movie (first song in the encore), and "Run On," AKA the "God's gonna cut you down song." It was before that song that Jones briefly mentioned his long friendship with Elvis Presley and how the two would stay up late into the night in Las Vegas singing gospel songs.
One assumes this was after the ladies had been sent packing. Still, the show only would've benefited from more reminiscences like this. Maybe Jones' next tour should just be him telling stories about the '60s and '70s. Ramblers and midnight gamblers, indeed.
But then the clouds parted and the underwear drawers finally opened up with "It's Not Unusual." And for every pair of quasi-bloomers that reached the stage (not much of a thong crowd, it would seem) at least two never made it further than halfway across the pit. Arm strength is one of the first things to go, I guess. Maybe next time grab an underwire bra, ladies.
But like I said before, once you discount the camp, and once you stop yourself from staring at all the awkward white people dancing (seriously, there were a lot of Navin Johnsons up in that motherfucker), you're forced to acknowledge Jones' persistent magnetism and the power of his voice, which still hits you like fist in the solar plexus, even at the back of the room. Last night, I didn't see any reason why Jones couldn't keep going another ten years.
He'll probably need to stick to theaters with seats at that point, however.
Personal Bias: I'm a relative Jones neophyte ("Thunderball" aside), and the first I ever heard "Delilah" was when Homer Simpson sang it.
The Crowd: I've probably said too much on this subject as it is. Definitely the oldest/whitest crowd I've seen since Neil Diamond.
Overheard in the Crowd: "It looks like the line at Luby's."
Random Notebook Dump: [of the designated panty picker upper] "He's not even wearing gloves!"
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Tower Of Song (Leonard Cohen cover)
Hit or Miss (Odetta cover)
Why Don't You Love Me
Raise the Ruckus
Dimming of the Day (Richard and Linda Thompson cover)
Bad As Me (Tom Waits cover)
Burning Hell (John Lee Hooker cover)
Didn't it Rain
If I Give My Soul (Billy Joe Shaver cover)
Back Ain't Got No Bone
Soul of a Man (Blind Willie Johnson cover)
Green, Green Grass of Home (Johnny Darrell cover)
It's Not Unusual
I'll Never Fall in Love Again (Lonnie Donegan cover)
Every Woman I Know
I Wish You Would (Billy Boy Arnold cover)
Kiss (Prince cover)
End of the Road (Jerry Lee Lewis cover)