As a man reaches his twilight, he tends to embrace the things that really matter. At 70, Tom Jones is no exception. Having spent too much of his career chasing youth — the Las Vegas years; the ghastly Sex Bomb; the threat to “bum-rush the door” on 2002’s Younger Days — he has returned to the music of his youth: rock ’n’ roll-tinged gospel.
There were no hits last night, not even The Young New Mexican Puppeteer, which would enhance any occasion, just Jones’s current Praise And Blame album in its entirety, including Didn’t It Rain which, for reasons far from clear, was played twice in the final three songs. Jones may well be the only man on earth who can legitimately claim to count both Robbie Williams and Elvis Presley among his “good friends” but while he’s clearly seeking the late-career revitalisation and credibility accorded to Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash, Praise And Blame is exactly the album Elvis would be making were he still in the building.
“This is gospel music, uplifting music, spiritual music,” he purred. It was also Tom Jones finally acting his age and so at ease at not having to pretend to be sexy any more that he could even quip “what’s that?” when someone suggested a lozenge he was popping might have been viagra.
The lighting was sombre; the voice deep, rich and almost a sub-human growl on Nobody’s Fault But Mine; while the music, brimming with rue and regret as much as fire and brimstone, was as Gothic as the setting.
Not the most mobile of performers these days, Jones carried the up-tempo Lord Help and Strange Things by power of voice alone, but when he worked his spine-tingling magic on the soul-baring Did Trouble Me and If I Give My Soul, you could almost weep for his wasted years.
Still, this was an evening of joy and one that promised uplift: here is a man who has finally found himself.
By John Aizlewood
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