Live Review: Tom Jones @ Margaret Court Arena

30 March 2024 | 8:34 am | Guido Farnell

Tonight’s show is the glorious culmination of many decades of Jones' experience as a singer and entertainer.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones (Source: Supplied)

This month sees the second knight of the realm tour our country this year! Duty bound to entertain us till the end of his days, Sir Tom Jones, dealt a wonderful show of hits that took in his expansive career. This is the kind of show we wish we could have taken our parents or grandparents to, but considering that some of them are already in aged care, it is amazing that Jones, at 83, can still tour the world and has the stamina to play a two and a half hour show every night.

Jones has carved a career on his now iconic rich and thick baritone. His voice soars on the sobering I’m Growing Old by Bobby Frank, which opens the show. It is, however, a wild demonstration that time has not diminished his voice at all. He continues in a similar vein to give us a powerful version of Bob Dylan’s quietly reflective, Not Dark Yet.

It is reassuring to see that Jones, in old age, tends to reflect on his twilight years and mortality with a certain maturity instead of trying to present what would be an awkward, hip-swivelling twenty-something image of himself. Someone throws a bunch of flowers at the stage, and they land at his feet. Jones acknowledges that it was a very kind gesture but that he would have to leave them there because, amusingly, at his age, he might not be able to get back up after bending down to pick them up.

Jones is still plenty groovy, but it is his band that provided arrangements that take their cue from American blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, funk and soul that moved familiar tunes in unexpected directions. It’s Not Unusual, which featured Jones’ musical director Gary Wallis on congas and piano accordion, was dealt with a light and breezy tropical vibe. What’s New Pussycat? followed in a similar vein. It almost didn’t matter how they played these songs as the beaming crowd sang along loudly to these old favourites. Paying tribute to Dusty Springfield, a dreamy cover of Windmills Of Your Mind soon followed.

Jones is especially proud of the fact that his last album, Surrounded By Time, released in 2021, hit number one on the English charts, making him the oldest man to top the charts. The setlist is liberally peppered with songs from this album. We already know songs like Cat StevensPop Star, Leonard Cohen’s Tower Of Song and Dylan’s One More Cup Of Coffee but the psychedelic spoken word Talking Reality Television Blues is a fascinating interlude in the set.

The images on the screen become a flicker fest of images that move through the decades from mid century. Its not celebratory in tone, rather it’s a darkly cynical reflection on the medium that massages the minds of millions the world over, taking aim at its representations of reality and unreality. It’s a grinding bluesy workout which feels great but perhaps isn’t as pop as some fans may have expected.

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At the heart of tonight’s set is a brooding cover of the late great Terry Callier’s Lazarus Man. Jones’s take on the song is compelling and darkly sombre. It sounded as though he was channelling his inner Nick Cave to craft a mysteriously eerie atmosphere.

While the vibe about fans was that they wished Jones had played more of his hits, it can’t be denied that Jones dropped many hits across the set. Sex Bomb was surprisingly recast as a wild bluesy grind. Taking his cue from Jerry Lee Lewis, Jones delivered the hymnal Green, Green Grass Of Home and torrid romance of Deliah. A roughed-up version of You Can Leave Your Hat On preceded nineties hits If I Only Knew and that cover of Prince’s Kiss.

Suddenly, it was time for encores and One Hell Of A Life, written for him by Katell Keineg, pretty much projected what Jones thinks about his life. It has been amazing and he knows it. During encores, Jones acknowledges that he has toured the world many times over and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

While pop music has always been Jones's stomping ground, the ever-present fascination with rock and roll has been obvious throughout the show. A sweet cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day is where Jones and the band really started to let it all hang out. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was, of course, a huge influence on Elvis, and Jones couldn’t go before telling us about the time he used to hang out with Elvis in Vegas.

The story goes that Elvis took Jones to see Chuck Berry where he told Jones that Berry was undeniably the king of rock and roll. Of course, this was just an excuse to bring down the night with a raucous version of Johnny B Goode that almost instantly had some of us thinking about Marty Mcfly.

Tonight’s show is the glorious culmination of many decades of Jones' experience as a singer and entertainer. At this late stage of his career, it's surprising to see that Jones is still restless about moving forward with new songs and ideas.

Some fans were seen leaving carrying the unmentionables they had planned to throw on stage. A pair of jocks was spotted in the aisle as we were leaving raised questions without answers.