The bulk of Tom Jones’ notoriety may have come from a series of swinging pop novelties and hip-swiveling stints in Las Vegas, but if the Welsh singer/song interpreter had his way, it would’ve probably stemmed from interpreting the rootsy side of the retro dial. Granted, he’s recorded tons of those tunes over the years, including a trilogy of recent albums (“Praise & Blame,” “Spirit In The Room,” “Long Lost Suitcase”) that address blues, country, spirituals and straight up soul, but chances are his celebrity status and sizeable hit parade were the motivating factors in selling out the House Of Blues.
Those eclectic sounds often came in handy, especially as Jones revived his own “Sex Bomb,” “Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “It’s Not Unusual” with a freshness compared to the original records, though they were all greeted with respect for the changes.
The performance was Jones’ first at the downtown staple since “my hair was black,” and despite being mostly gray on Monday, the 76-year-old was extremely suave, debonair and physically active as he serenaded the zealous audience for nearly two hours. But rather than tapping into those Sin City glory days when he gave Wayne Newton a serious run for his gambling chips, the Wales native with the pristine baritone was more akin to Van Morrison or Eric Burdon mining through the authentic greats of yesteryear.
In fact, Jones opened the show with John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell,” engulfed in red, flame-like lights as he bellowed with tremendous depth, while completely ignoring one of the many undergarments that would periodically slingshot towards the stage. His rich interpretations of long lost chestnuts continued with the traditional folk tune “Run On” and Odetta’s “Hit Or Miss,” which oozed with a sincere interest that wasn’t as noticeable during his schlockier ‘60s staples.
Others of note included a growling trip to the crossroads throughout Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul Of A Man,” a masterful reading of Leonard Cohen’s pensive “Tower Of Song” and a smoldering rendition of Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” (the cue for Jones to seductively strip off his sport coat). The latter in particular made excellent utilization of a nine-piece band, which outside of the standard instruments and brass line, also featured a tuba and accordion.
Those eclectic sounds often came in handy, especially as Jones revived his own “Sex Bomb,” “Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “It’s Not Unusual” with a freshness compared to the original records, though they were all greeted with respect for the changes. Jones also mashed up ‘90s dance music and rap on “If I Only Knew,” brought everyone back to Sean Connery’s “James Bond” days for the true-to-form “Thunderball” and dedicated “Kiss” (his electro pop comeback collaboration with The Art Of Noise) to the late great Prince.
However, the headliner returned to his personal record collection for Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happen Every Day,” self-described as landing somewhere between “a rock n’ roll, R&B, country and gospel song with a little boogie-woogie.” Jones couldn’t have pinpointed the closer any better, and as long as he stayed in those lanes, proved he was both deserving and tremendously capable of handling far better material than what was provided throughout those early days of fame.
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Upcoming concert highlights at the House Of Blues include Camila (Oct. 6); Local Brews Local Grooves (Oct. 7); Pennywise (Oct. 8); Suicide Silence (Oct. 9); Alestorm (Oct. 11); Parkway Drive (Oct. 12); Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979 (Oct. 13); Kaleo (Oct. 14-15); Simple Plan (Oct. 16); David Costa (Oct. 19); Sum 41 (Oct. 21); Clutch (Oct. 25); Attila (Oct. 26); Meshuggah (Oct. 28); Yonder Mountain String Band (Oct. 29); Lupe Fiasco (Oct. 30) and Stryper (Oct. 31). For additional details, visit HouseOfBlues.com/Chicago.