Frank Sinatra was The Voice. Elvis Presley was The King. Jackie Wilson was Mr. Excitement. They're all gone now, but it seems as though Tom Jones is ready to take on each of their titles -- even at the age of 65.At the Palace Theatre on Friday night, the powerhouse Welsh singer uncorked a flat-out blockbuster performance. Despite the fact that you won't find Jones anywhere on the pop record charts these days, the man certainly knows how to deliver the goods live. For the record, the first item of women's unmentionables hit the stage at 9:05 p.m. in the middle of the towering ballad, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and by my count, the final underwear total was four -- with three more launched during the prowling oom-pah of "What's New, Pussycat?"
But the whole feminine-undergarments-as-flying-missiles-of- adoration thing has always served only to undermine Jones' true talents as both a vocalist and an entertainer.
That's not to say that he isn't still a mighty sexy guy. Gyrating in the spotlight during the high-kicking "Delilah," the hip-swiveling braggadocio of "She's a Lady" and the flashy footwork of the final encore, Prince's uber-sexy "Kiss," Jones was every bit the sex symbol that he was 40 years ago when he won the Grammy Award as the best new artist of the year.
His booming, brassy baritone sounds as powerful as ever, as he romped through his oldies from the '60s (like growling "It's Not Unusual" and the country-gospel wail of "Green, Green Grass of Home"), more recent dance-floor hits ( the disco detonation of "Sex Bomb") and a welcome batch of old blues tunes (the jazzy barrelhouse of "St. James Infirmary Blues" and a swaggering sashay through Willie Dixon's "200 Pounds of Heavenly Joy").
He was at his best, however, when he managed to meld all three of those elements together. He perfectly blended the old with the new on his scorching cover of Rise Robots Rise's "If I Only Knew," unleashing a hell-bent scream alongside a punchy R&B horn figure from the four-piece horn section. Heck, he even pulled off a bit of rap with a sly, self-aware sense of humor.
Dressed all in black and sporting a goatee, Jones made it work on a pair of funky Randy Newman covers -- "Mama Told Me Not to Come" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On," which has never sounded as brash and bawdy. And he made it work on the more subtle finger-snapping country soul of Charlie Rich's "Who Will the Next Fool Be?," too.
While the eight-piece band and trio of backing vocalists served him well, he didn't really need them, as he proved during the pared down blues of "What Am I Living For?," his robust voice backed only by Brian Monroney's acoustic guitar and saxophonist Kenny Anderson. The old Kettie Lester ballad, "Love Letters," was also given maximum impact by honing the focus of Jones' heart wrenching vocals. Tom Jones has still got it. No question about it.
Greg Haymes can be reached 454-5742 or by e-mail at email@example.com
Tom Jones delivers it all live The Palace Theatre, Albany By Greg Hames (First published: Saturday, February 25, 2006)