For more than four decades the man and myth, Tom Jones, has been on the scene with such consistency we might think of him as a fixed cultural object. In fact, though, there are at least two distinct Tom Jones personae, as the stocky Welshman demonstrated at a return engagement to Chumash Casino Resort on Friday night. On the surface, there is the kitsch-dispensing Vegas veteran and unsolicited lingerie collector with a flirtatious eye. He's a cartoon sex machine whose minute movements add up to innuendos, even when he doesn't seem to mean it. But the other and more captivating side of Mr. Jones, now 66, is a surprisingly strong singer who seems to assert his musical prowess over his kitschy gravy train. It's not unusual to find Mr. Jones backed by an unerring band, such as this 11-piece group, or to find him singing with great accuracy and controlled intensity.
In addition to the usual suspects in his songset -- the evergreen charmers "It's Not Unusual" and "She's a Lady" -- he hopped on the standards bandwagon, tackling Sinatra favorites, "Here's that Rainy Day," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Old Black Magic." He's no Jones-come-lately to the Great American Songbook, as he's had those songs under his belt for decades and lends a beefy, vibrato-spiced sense of style to them.
Mr. Jones is uniquely suited to sing certain songs, especially where blues, double-entendres and tongue-in-cheekiness is involved. On Friday, Howlin' Wolf's "200 Pounds of a Natural Man" sprang to life in Mr. Jones' version. Later, he removed his purple jacket and pumped just the right energy and inflection into Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," a masterpiece of comical salaciousness.
And he can funk it up on dance-happy tunes "Sex Bomb" and Prince's "Kiss," the energized show-closer at the casino. But then Mr. Jones can turn around and summon genuine emotion on a sweet number such as his '60s hit "Green, Green Grass of Home." He also rose to the dignified occasion of Van Morrison's "Cry for Home," recorded as a duet between the presumably mystical Irishman and the presumably libidinous Welshman.
There was a key moment during Friday's short set when the two Toms converged. It came during one of his classic '60s era tunes, "What's New, Pussycat?" (actually a fabulous and witty Burt Bacharach tune, sounding like a vaudevillian, brothel-ready waltz).
As Mr. Jones belted it out with his bold-toned bravado, the natives rushed to him and began the ritual of tossing panties up onstage. Mr. Jones maintained his knowing smirk but also gazed at the undergarments with a touch of rue, maybe because he has become a jaded critic of lingerie or maybe because he's growing a bit weary of the Vegas monkey on his artistic back.
Tom Jones, we thought we knew ye. But the man sure can sing. IN CONCERT: A TALE OF TWO TOMS: Jones' strong, soulful vocals cry for a look beyond the shtick JOSEF WOODARD, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT October 1, 2007 10:27 AM