It’s been six long years since Tom Jones played in New Zealand, and last night at The Vector Arena there was a palpable excitement in the air, with some enthusiastic fans dressing up in 70’s gear with wigs, medallions and flamboyant clothes. But is that what the night would be about?! The band consisted of drums, two keyboardists, two guitarists and bass. Tom entered and looked grounded, strong and happy. At 75 he still has a very youthful feel.
It was an interesting start to the set as he sang four songs from his 2010 album Praise & Blame, (an album of stripped back traditional spiritual and contemporary gospel songs). Setting the scene for the evening, he began with John Lee hooker’s Burning Hell, and we followed him “down to the crossroads in fear and trembling,” considering a deal with the Devil.
Tom spoke of his times hanging out with Elvis and sang the traditional song Run On which the King had covered too, and with the lyrics “sooner or later I’m gonna cut you down” … there was a darker vibe.
Next Didn’t it Rain with widescreen images of rain falling behind the band. Clearly happy to be in NZ, he encouraged the audience to clap along and was applauded when he sang in his trademark low register – the whole arena experiencing the presence of his incredible voice – almost operatic with a phenomenal rich tone.
You Don’t Knock was an upbeat rock’n’roll number delivered with a big ending to rapturous applause, by now the crowd being pulled in and upwards, true believers one and all. Tom then spoke to us “Hello Auckland – “I’m going to be doing everything that’s humanly possible tonight!” and he cleverly transitioned into a more familiar song, introducing a brass section, to deliver Sex Bomb in the style of 80’s rocker Stray Cat Strut, complete with walking bass and a great vocal, where he teased the audience with the beguilingly clever lyrics.
The audience were up dancing and the obligatory knickers were thrown onto the stage – but Tom ignored them, and took us straight back to his new music, four songs from his 2015 LP Long Lost Suitcase (the companion to his autobiography, Over The Top And Back).
The first one was a highlight of the evening, the Lonnie Johnson song Tomorrow Night. With a backdrop of a moon over the ocean, Tom sang over a beautiful Hawaiian guitar and accordion. Then Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do? followed by Raise a Ruckus with Hillbilly harmonies and everyone singing along and big applause as Tom acknowledged the daffodils and Welsh flags being waved around – and then the rock n roll Take My Love (I Want to Give It)
It seemed to take a while for many of the audience to recognise the next song as it started slower and with a Pulp Fiction feel, Toms voice was accompanied by a Dick Dale surf style guitar – the tension and darkness was building. On the screen blood and roses being smashed, and blood running down a drain. The line “I felt the knife in my hand as she laughed” resonated, the horns were back and the song kicked into a Samba Bayon beat (similar to the original groove of It’s Not Unusual).
It was Delilah! Arms were waved joyfully in the air while singing along with the chorus “My, my, my Delilah” which was quite a contrast to what was on the screen but everyone embraced it, there to have a good time – it was a spectacular version.
This was followed by Fall in Love – Tom’s voice sounded particularly beautiful and soothing – with phones instead of lighters being waved in the air and then my favourite song of the night Shake a Hand, written in 1953 by Joe Morris and originally performed by Faye Adams. Starting with a cool guitar riff and vocal the song built, depicting a reassuring new lover making promises with lyrics “Just give me a chance, I’ll take care of everything’.
Then back to his suitcase for Elvis Presley Blues – A powerful song written by Gillian Welch, sung with just guitars and gentle keys. Tom told us how Priscilla Presley approved of the song saying “it was a haunting tribute to Elvis”
You could feel Tom soul searching while singing two songs from his 2012 album Spirit in the Room. Soul Of A Man, with its pounding bass line and the stage lit red, and then, to massive applause, Leonard Cohen’s Tower Of Song – beautifully delicate with a moody instrumentation.
And back to familiar territory with The Green Green Grass of Home country style, with a singalong chorus and huge applause.
Next the classic, It’s Not Unusual. This song was originally written for Sandie Shaw. Tom was just meant to be the demo singer, but once recorded they both knew it was perfect for him, and it went on to be his first number one and launch his career. Personally, I was hoping to hear it played in its original style – this version was slower and more downbeat.
The next two songs brought the house down; Mama Told Me Not To Come, and You Can Leave Your Hat On. They were followed by If I Only Knew, and the set ended with the rocking I Wish You Would.
For an encore the band came back and jammed for what seemed like a long time before Tom returned and sang the Bond Theme Thunderball. Something seemed a little discordant and uncomfortable in the sound but the melody shone through, with Tom’s voice sounding phenomenal.
Next, Kiss, which seemed to be the highlight of the night for most of the audience. And for the last song back to his recent Praise & Blame album for Strange Things – upbeat rock’n’roll blues, with everyone dancing and … more underwear thrown on stage!
Tom showed his depth tonight, and was determined to stamp out the pants! The darker side was revealed, with most of his set being made up of his more recent songs from his trilogy of albums which have seen him go back to his rhythm and blues roots. Away from the glitzy entertainer, and back to singing songs with heart and soul which HE wants to sing. Back to his core, to his voice, and what a voice!
With his operatic power, mixed with the grace and sensibility of a soul singer – he feels the songs, you know they resonate with him deeply and he sings from the heart. Tonight we saw Tom Jones. Tonight we saw who he really is. His voice won through.
Article by: Jennie Cruse
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