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Concert Reviews:
Not unusual -- Tom Jones shows he still has it at Detroit Opera House

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, May 12, 2018

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DETROIT -- “Are we gonna have a good time tonight?” Tom Jones asked the sold-out crowd Friday, May 11, at the Detroit Opera House -- as if there was any reasonable chance we wouldn’t.

At 77 years old, the Welsh singing icon still has it, plain and simple. The frenetic, swivel-hip dance moves may be a memory -- recreated only on the video screen at the rear of the stage -- and the tossed panty count was down to about a half dozen. And Jones, making up for a Freedom Hill concert canceled last fall due to illness, didn’t toss a single sweaty object into the seats throughout the 20-song, 95-minute show.

But his voice is still robust, agreeably aged into an instrument that can purr and growl as the songs dictate. And Jones remained affably wry and self-effacing, cracking after “Delilah” that, “If I’d known that song was gonna get a reaction like that I’d have played it sooner” and telling one of the many shouting their love for him “I love you took, but stand up. Let me see what I’m gonna love.”

Mostly, however, Friday’s show was a demonstration of the dark-suited Jones’ sublime musical tastes. He and his crack nine-piece band deftly re-arranged some of his big hits -- “Delilah” as a kind of noir samba singalong, “It’s Not Unusual” as a lighter, breezy bop, “What’s New Pussycat” as a bar chanty -- and showed he could still funk things up convincingly with energetic renditions of “Sex Bomb” and “If I Only Knew.” Many of the concert’s highlights, however, came from others’ catalogs, showcasing Jones’ ace interpretive skills.

The early part of the show had a Detroit flavor, as Jones opened with John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” and tossed an a capella bit of “Detroit City,” which he recorded himself during 1967. Later on he delivered a muscular version of Little Willie John’s “Take My Love (I Want To Give It All To You).” He took on a pair of Randy Newman favorites -- “Mama Told Me Not To Come” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” -- slayed the traditionals “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and “Didn’t It Rain” and was joined by the opening duo Into The Ark, who Jones judged on “The Voice U.K.,” for covers of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Jones scored, in fact, with pretty much everything he touched, including a towering deliveries of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man,” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happen Everyday,” his take on Johnny Darrell’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” remains definitive. Only his treatment of Prince’s “Kiss” fell flat, missing the swagger Jones brought to the song with Art of Noise in 1988.

That was just a blip in an otherwise killer show, however. And as Jones bid the Opera House crowd a farewell “until we see you all again,” it was clear that return visit can’t come too soon.

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