The Welsh singer began the U.S. leg of his tour in support of his 2015 album 'Long Lost Suitcase' at the Tower Theater last night.
Written by Allie Volpe • Photography by Colin Kerrigan • September 21, 2016
Tom Jones is a man of many voices—a sonic chameleon, an aural shapeshifter able to transform his instrument into any genre, style, or time period he so chooses. The Welsh singer began the U.S. leg of his tour in support of his 2015 album Long Lost Suitcase at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia last night. In a true showman's fashion, he gave a gentlemanly bow before erupting into a repertoire of hits from rock 'n' roll's past.
Pulling cuts from his trio of albums produced by Ethan Johns, which includes 2010's Praise & Blame and Spirit In The Room which would follow two years later, in addition to Suitcase, Jones again proved his ability to step into any song or story and make it uniquely his. From the bombastic rockabilly blues rendition of John Lee Hooker track "Burning Hell" to the tender and melodic spin on Leonard Cohen's "Tower Of Song," the evening's performance had depth as well as width. His career spans over 50 years, yet Jones makes fresh and new material that predates his time in the limelight.
At its fullest, Jones' backing band consisted of nine players, and ranged from horns to organ and guitar. These bright features helped move the show along, ushering in various arrangements like the wild full band "Raise A Ruckus"—a jubilant and full contrast to the sleek and minimal recorded version on Suitcase—or the stark and moving "Elvis Presley Blues."
Mentions of Presley were noted, with Jones paying tribute to his late friend through another musician's song. He poured life into lyrics written about the man he knew well—"And he shook it like a chorus girl / And he shook it like a Harlem queen" turned not cliche, but revelatory under Jones' deep baritone vibrato. Tales of he and Presley's time singing gospel songs together prefaced "Run On." Another tenderhearted anecdote lead into the Lonnie Johnson original "Tomorrow Night," which Jones transformed into a crooning moonlit ballad, a favorite of his late wife who passed earlier this year.
The night's most anticipatory and well received moments came in the form of notable original recordings given new workings. "Sexbomb" was shed of its original funk and given the Las Vegas treatment with a dramatic and slowed introduction filled with sultry guitar wailings and accented rests in between mentions of "sexbomb" before transitioning into a brass-lead groove. Accordion, acoustic guitar, and tuba accompanied Jones on a romantic version of "What's New Pussycat?" fit for any French cafe. Rather than the chipper "Delilah" of 1968, a Latin salsa variety exists in 2016. On more than one occasion, security interrupted showgoers approaching the stage, panties waving overhead.
With a voice as strong and unwavering as ever, Jones' new arrangements and revisits to music history's past refocused attention on the demands of being a solo performer whose only instrument of vocals leaves no curtains to hide behind. He takes the listener on a journey of his own musical discovery, leading with charisma and wide smiles while he builds a world of song around us. The goal of Long Lost Suitcase is not to banish old with the new, but to invigorate the past with a life well sung.
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