Return of the Mack: Tom Jones dazzles at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater

You'd be hard pressed to find an entertainer who better defines the term "superstar" than Tom Jones. The Welsh-born singer rose to fame in the mid-1960's and racked up a string of hit singles, starred in his own variety show and gained the admiration of millions of overzealous female fans who showed their affections by launching their undergarments at him during live performances. Fast forward several decades and you'll still find Jones every bit the dazzling entertainer. Jones has retained a large core audience that has faithfully followed him through changing trends and styles as evidenced from the eager crowd awaiting his taking the stage last Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

One of the loudest and rowdiest roars I've heard from an awaiting audience in a long time was steadily belted from the plush seats until Jones took the stage at 8:15 p.m. No need for an opening act; the crowd was here for one reason only: to be treated to the timeless, sexy, soulful voice that Tom Jones has entranced his fans with for years.

Clad in bright purple silk shirt, shiny black blazer and black slacks, Jones slowly emerged amid a sea of sultry red lights. A guitarist preceded Tom's entrance and filled the hall with some tasty, nasty slide guitar blues giving the feel of a seedy blues club rather than a pristine performance hall. Jones quickly launched into "Burning Hell," a cut from his newest album, the excellent gospel-blues tinged Praise and Blame. In fine voice, the 70-year-old Jones boldly opened with this relatively unknown selection from a current work rather than relying on a tried and true nugget from his vast career. Pretty ballsy move, without a doubt. But, in actuality, it set the tone for the bold course Jones opted to trudge all night long.

The evening's set was filled with constant surprises and jaw-droppers. Sure, we were treated to classics like "Green Green Grass of Home" and a savory, Mariachi-styled version of "Delilah." But Tom seemed to really soar when delivering his versions of some pretty unpredictable covers ranging from Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" to "Hey Pocky Way" by the New Orleans-based party band The Meters.

Showing no signs of slowing (ok, so Tom doesn't swivel his hips as ferociously as he used to), Jones proved for nearly two hours that he is still as entertaining and charismatic as ever. Jones was, after all, the one entertainer who Elvis Presley admittedly feared; supposedly, Elvis was always worried that Jones would surpass him in terms of popularity and stardom, and that he'd eventually steal all his fans away from him. At this, my first ever Tom Jones concert, it's easy to understand Presley's anxieties. As if it weren't enough of a threat that the man can sing, select hip material to cover AND whip an adoring crowd into a frenzy, he was also born with the gift of the gab. Almost as enchanting as the performance itself, Jones playfully told several engaging stories and anecdotes that found him name-dropping artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan and Elvis.

The funniest moment came when Jones was chiding a female audience member with a thick New York accent who repeatedly crowed, "Take your jacket off!!" Jones didn't miss a beat and fired back with witty quips of his own: "Don't worry ... before the night is over, EVERYTHING is coming off!" he flaunted. It was obvious by crowd's reaction to that comment that many of the females approved.

For nearly two hours sans intermission, the veteran superstar and consummate entertainer wielded his carefully honed skills and showed us why he's still so highly revered. Still taking chances and not relying on past glories, it's obvious that Tom Jones is more interested in remaining vital and taking chances than being reduced to a corny nostalgia act.

Jones seemed as comfortable belting his signature song "It's Not Unusual" as he did his fine cover of Prince's coy "Kiss" (complete with a fantastic intro of Prince's naughtier "Sexy MF").

Tom Jones is without a doubt one of the greatest performers of all time. Geared and primed in an age that didn't have to rely on flashy gimmicks, costumes or shock value, Tom Jones was (and still is) the true definition of a star. And the near-capacity crowd that were jammed into Ruth Eckerd Hall last Friday night have known that for a long, long time.

Complete Setlist:

Burning Hell Run On Let’s Have A Ball I’ll Never Fall in Love Again Strange Things Dixie Chicken Green, Green Grass of Home Detroit City Delilah St. James Infirmary Blues What Good Am I? Nobody’s Fault But Mine Don’t Knock Didn’t It Rain Mama Told Me Not to Come You Can Leave Your Hat On If I Give My Soul It’s Not Unusual Encore Kiss Hey Pocky Way

By Gabe Echazabal for Creative Loafting. Click here to read full article