MANY, many decades from now, when social scientists try to unravel the
Gordian knot of gender roles and sexuality that shaped the late 20th
century, they will undoubtedly come across a Tom Jones concert videotape.
They will carefully graph the butt-twitching, fist-pumping, pelvis-grinding
come-and-get-it- baby moves. They will try to interpret the correlation
between women's underwear and the pregnant pauses in the song "What's
New, Pussycat?" They will puzzle over the role of sweat as a
performance metaphor. And they will come to one conclusion: Now this
was a man.
Friday night, before an adoring full house at the Circle Star Center in San
Carlos, the 51-year-old Welsh paragon of masculinity punched his way
through a workmanlike 90-minute, 21-song set that included all the old
cornball favorites and a preview of what might be his richest work to date.
A generation of children has been born, raised and sent through college
in the years since Tiger Tom bounded onto the pop scene with "It's Not
Unusual" in '65. But the enduring appeal of this consummate pop
jack-of-all-trades knows no age limits. Friday night, the old-line matrons
in their big Cadillacs and Buicks were out in force, along with the
sharkskin-suited Vegas crowd and a surprisingly large contingent of
dressed-for-distress post-teen mods and rockers. They had all come to pay
homage to the high priest of hip.
Midway through the set, the parade of female admirers -- ages 10 to 60
-- who sought a stage-side one-on-one audience with the Tomster became so
unwieldy that he paused to conduct a receiving line. It's not unusual. . .
. A little kiss here, a coy peck there, and -- boom -- we're back in business.
Let the record show that when the dust finally settled, these items were
on the circular stage: six pairs of women's underwear, one pair of
peach-colored pantyhose, three love notes, more than a dozen floral
arrangements and one bottle of Dom Perignon.
Jones is the genuine item, a sincere and thoroughly convincing performer
whose patchwork of schmaltzy pop, chugging rock and romantic ballads is
held together by sheer force of personality. His credibility with the
over-50 crowd is so strong he can open with two pounding, brassy rock
rave-ups (as he did Friday) and still provoke Beatlemania-strength fits of
shrieking out of the old guard. His credentials with the hip club crowd are
equally impressive, due in large part to a young generation of disc jockeys
who constantly use his old records as a form of comic irony. And unlike the
Engelbert Humperdincks and Barry Manilows of this world, Jones is a
bona-fide rocker who's forever forging new alliances -- with Prince, the
Pogues, the Art of Noise and a legion of other forward-looking rockers.
Predictably, Friday night's audience reserved its strongest approval for
the standards -- "What's New, Pussycat?" "The Green, Green
Grass of Home," "Delilah" and "Never Fall in Love
Again." But the new Van Morrison-penned material off Jones' current
album, "Carrying a Torch," was nothing short of spectacular.
The marriage of Jones' larger-than-life baritone (which was in
fair-to-middling shape) and Morrison's Celtic soul is one made in rock 'n'
roll heaven. His glowing, inspired delivery of "Carrying a Torch"
and "Some Piece of Mind" far overshadowed his work on the older
material. Of the four new numbers he trotted out Friday, only "Killer
on the Sheets" -- a grungy rocker best suited for the likes of Alice
Cooper -- fell short of the mark.
To say Jones is a very physical performer is a great understatement --
he works like plow horse. His bumps and grinds were coarse enough to make a
Madonna fan blush. After casting off his purple double-breasted blazer 10
songs into the set, he spent the remainder of the night with sheets of
sweat pouring off his black slacks and black shirt like rain off a tin
You could get sweaty just watching this guy -- and I'm sure a few people
Rock 'n' roll