Tom Jones came out singing not just a song but a declaration Sunday night at the House of Blues."I'm alive and I'm doing my thing and singing my song," he proclaimed in that familiar voice, the very essence of machismo. The Tommy James cover of "I'm Alive" from Jones's latest album, "24 Hours," served notice that Jones has still got it going on. And it was no idle boast. For 90 minutes the frisky Welsh entertainer, 68, rousingly retraced the many musical steps of his 45-year career, and he wasn't too tired to kick his leg up higher than his head while he was at it. Clad in a fitted black suit and shirt unbuttoned just enough but not too much, Jones fronted a crackling 11-piece band, including a lively four-man horn section, that effortlessly switched gears to suit Jones's every persona. The enduring image of the swinging '60s pop star and sex symbol was amply represented by the strutting "She's a Lady," the lilting "Delilah," and the oom-pa-pa fizz of "What's New Pussycat?" Jones may have lost a bit of his high register and sustain, but the tone, clarity, and power of his beefy baritone remain very much intact.
He also took a trip to Nashville with the gentle singalong "Green Green Grass of Home," stopped into the disco for the thumping "Sex Bomb," and revisited old standards with small combo takes of "Fly Me to the Moon" and "That Old Black Magic."
But it was Jones the balladeer and bluesman who proved to be the most revelatory. He was truly touching during the new autumn-years remembrance "Seasons" and a faithfully funky breakdown of Bill Withers's masterful "Grandma's Hands." And he injected just the right dose of raunch into the lowdown and sultry "Git Me Some."
Though Jones is perceived by some as a Vegas lounge lizard, the campy wink-wink moments were few. Aside from some obligatory posterior wiggling, salacious hip thrusts, and growls - particularly during the burlesque romp "You Can Leave Your Hat On" - Jones played it straight and sincere (except, of course, when mugging after dodging the occasional flying panties).
It's not unusual that "It's Not Unusual" brought out the audience's giddy inner Carlton (the Tom Jones-idolizing cousin with ridiculous dance moves on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"), as the arms and hips of young and old, straight and gay, swished frantically in opposition.
At the end of the night, after Jones took it home with a comically stentorian take on Prince's "Kiss," the tally of knickers flung at the stage - that we saw - stood at seven. But that relatively paltry number wasn't because Tom Jones didn't bring the heat. By Sarah Rodman