Last Night: Tom Jones at the Warfield
Saturday, Sept. 7, 2009
My relationship with Tom Jones began with my relationship with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The joke on that show was, of course, that Carlton Banks --the nerdy, well-off, Bel-Air dwelling cousin to the very cool, backwards-hat-wearing and street-smart Will Smith-- enjoyed Tom Jones. And what could be lamer than a young black man who wears pink polos and swivels his hips to "It's Not Unusual?"
The real Tom Jones, however, was far from benign. As a young entertainer, he was decried for being too dirty. Jones was unapologetically sexual, wore skin-tight pants (with far more panache then most of today's trend followers), and had raunchy lyrics. A number of Web sites will have you believe that he deflowered actress Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira) who subsequently required stitches due to the singer's generous proportions. And of course, women throw their panties at him. This too has become part of the legend and the joke, but in the end, it's also supremely dirty.
Panties were hurled at last night's Tom Jones performance at the Warfield, where a mostly over-30 crowd decked in three piece suits and immobile blonde hair-dos (and one beaded headdress) thrilled to the crooner's swagger and still sonorous voice.
Jones is a consummate performer who cut his chops in Las Vegas, and he is awesomely adept at providing what the audience calls for. Wearing all black, with his shirt open wide so everyone could see a healthy swath of chest criss-crossed with gold chains, he wiggled his fingers at the audience, growled unabashedly into the mic like an oversexed tiger, and favored the screaming crowd with enthusiastic pelvic pumps. Audience members with swinging grey ponytails blew plumes of pot smoke into the Warfield's atmosphere while women sang along to the lyrics and crushed towards the stage.
Jones is promoting a new album, 24 Hours, and while he sang a few tunes from it, he also dipped into an archive of covers, singing Howling Wolf's "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy," after which he told the audience with a knowing laugh, "I'm actually two hundred pounds of heavenly pleasure." They did not disagree.
The tight hour-and-40-minute show culminated in what the audience had undoubtedly paid for: a string of Jones' greatest hits belted out one after another. It would be hard for even the most cynical concert-goer to resist his hip-swinging renditions of songs like "It's Not Unsual" and "She's a Lady" and the obvious fun he was having while singing them.
There was no mistaking what Jones referred to when he sang the line, "I'll soon be kissing your sweet pussycat lips," and smooched his fingers with a wet smacking sound. "I'm a dancer, too," he told the audience and took a turn, throwing off his jacket, its silk crimson lining flying across the stage.
At one point a woman near the front passed him a note written on hot pink stationary. Jones teasingly asked her if he could read it out loud before carefully placing it behind him. This was a welcome piece of unrehearsed audience interaction. Jones, a man who undoubtedly has a treasure trove of stories to dip into, otherwise failed to regale his fans between songs.
Jones closed with covers of Bananarama's "Venus" and Prince's "Kiss." The songs were fitting reminders to younger music fans that the singer's brand of highly sexual, silly, Las Vegas cockiness paved the way for all kinds of modern onstage deviancy.
While I did leave with my panties, I also left with a new respect for the singer.
Random detail: Jones unfurled the flag of his homeland, Wales, at the end of the show. It has a bitchin' dragon on it.
By the way: Pretty much any show can be infinitely improved by a brass section that coordinates jazz hands.