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Tom Jones, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Tom Jones, Hammersmith Apollo

Tom Jones, Hammersmith Apollo

The underwear stays on for this Blues Fest performance, though spontaneous dancing finally breaks out

Jones: artist or entertainer?

It seems almost a lifetime since Tom Jones was a man in very tight clothes who did well in the clubs of Las Vegas. After the fallow years, his 1988 cover of Prince’s “Kiss” kick-started a tongue-in-cheek rehabilitation period that lasted a decade, right up to the unforgettable “whoowauh!” of “Sex Bomb”. But what happened next surprised everyone. Jones started to relearn his craft. And now, after the last two decidedly post-ironic albums, the question remains, has “Jones the Voice” really become a genuinely credible artist?

The organisers of the 2012 Blues Fest series certainly felt so. And returning the faith put in him, Jones opened with Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man.” Lights were dimmed over a simple stage, followed by overdriven guitars, and finally Jones himself arrived in a collarless blue jacket to sing about deliverance.

Over a strummed Dobro guitar, Jones asked God’s forgiveness for his straying

But somehow, even for those familiar with the Praise and Blame album, Jones still sounded a little unusual. Intriguing, yes. But wholly satisfying? No. To begin with there were just too many traditional numbers, coming one after the other. “Travelling Shoes", “Strange Things” and “Lord Help” not only sounded muddy, but also as if Jones was simply belting over a slightly generic backing.

On the fifth track, however, it all started to change. Over a strummed Dobro guitar, Jones asked God’s forgiveness for his straying. Ethan Johns' arrangements made for a delicate wistful sound reminiscent of the late period Johnny Cash albums, but if such use of a voice that oozes experience has been done before, it only works if it appears truly credible. And this did.

Yet this sound wasn’t the real success of the night. That honour fell to a fuller, more Seventies texture that utilised the full band. The size of Jones’ backing group waxed and waned over the evening, from a Neil Diamond-esque 10-piece to just one guitar. The fat soundscape on the catchy soul of “Hit or Miss” and Paul McCartney's nostalgic “(I Want to) Come Home” made these numbers feel every bit as classic as “Green, Green Grass of Home” and “Detroit City.” The only time the trad blues numbers matched those lovely thick arrangements was when the band was really committed to making the hair stand up on your neck.

They did so on “Burning Hell” which, like many of the songs from Praise and Blame, dealt with God and the Devil. Some have questioned quite what Jones has done to qualify him to interpret such material. If his catchphrase is anything to go by he’d no doubt reply that "it’s the voice that counts!” But to downplay Jones’ depth may also be to miss a trick.

I’m not sure if it's Welsh valley coal dust that makes Jones feels so black

One of the more surprising moments of the evening was when he invited Josh Osho onto the stage to duet on Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown and White": “If you’s white, should be all right/ If you's brown, stick around/ but if you's black / brother, get back, get back, get back.” I’m not sure if it's Welsh valley coal dust that makes Jones feels so black, but it was one of the most genuinely spine tingling moments of the evening.

After over an hour of some spectacularly goosebumpy moments and some more lacklustre pages from the blues songbook came the encores. Jones had saved two of the biggest hitters for last. His interpretation of Howling Wolf’s "Evil" (from a collaboration with Jack White) felt like a punch in the guts, while his reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” was every bit a beautiful as on the record.  

So there it was. And just how did Sir Tom the Artist measure against Jones the Entertainer? Well that wasn’t quite it. Just after the final bows, as the crowd were beginning to file out, Jamie Moses started plucking the chords of "Delilah". Having forgotten the words to an earlier song, Jones beamed at him, “Well, this is one song I definitely do know", and following the final “why, why, why” his smile had grown even bigger. “Oh sod it, we must still have time for 'Kiss'". Suddenly 3,000 people, not all young, started spontaneously dancing in the aisles. So, Tom Jones: serious or fun? Maybe a bit of both, but the crowd liked it best when he was seriously good fun.

Tom Jones interprets Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song"

His interpretation of Howling Wolf’s 'Evil' felt like a punch in the guts

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

I was at the Hammersmith Apollo last night and though Tom Jones was fantastic. I thought the audience however were mainly a bunch of grumpy miseries !!

Agree wholeheartedly. It looked like bus loads of ancient Tom Jones' fans had turned up expecting to hear Delilah, It's not unusual etc etc; without clocking that this was Blues Fest and / or bothering to have listened to his latest 2 albums. I saw many over 60s leave early because they couldn't quite hack the loud guitar rocking their soul. I don't get it ? Ronseal - does what it says on the tin. This was Blues Fest - no surprise then to hear great, soulful, rockin Blues music delivered by WOW what a voice. Yes, it was great to hear some old favourites but that's not what it was all about....

Well having grown up with Tom Jones and loved his voice from the very first time I heard it I was not dissapointed . The only thing that spoilt it was the too tight trousers - Tom with a voice like you have - just sing .........

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