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By Joshua Jabcuga
March 18, 2004
Mr. Jones & Me: Wherein Josh Jabcuga loses a bet and unwillingly attends a Tom Jones concert in Canada, only to walk away a humbled fan.
“Johnny Icon,” a concert-promoter/talent-buyer friend of mine, has been begging me for some time now to check out a TOM JONES concert with him. This friend really digs TOM. He says TJ is incomparable, or, in Johnny Icon’s words, “The voice!” My response was always the same: “Don’t hold your breath.”
My good friend insisted that I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Johnny Icon told me that one of his brothers is a huge PANTERA fan, and even he was won over by TOM’s voice after seeing him in Vegas a few years ago. Now he plans his Vegas trips not around boxing matches like he used to, but around TOM JONES’ tour schedule. If a PANTERA fan can be seduced by the voice of TOM JONES, maybe it was worth a listen. The last concert that I had attended was last month at a small club in Buffalo by LIFE OF AGONY, a favorite of my girlfriend’s. According to Johnny Icon, a TOM JONES concert has a different vibe to it, not as frenzied as a rock show. Johnny Icon describes TOM JONES as, well, an icon, which, fan or not, there’s no denying the man’s marquee star power. Johnny Icon had met TOM on several occasions, and he informed me there was a good chance we’d be mingling with the legend himself.
To be perfectly honest, other than a song or two from oldies FM radio stations, I was completely unfamiliar with TOM JONES and his music. I had no idea what all the fuss was about, or even what to expect for that matter. I really had no desire to go backstage to meet TOM JONES, as my friend had implied might happen, but then after thinking about it for awhile (ten seconds or so), I thought, Hey, TOM JONES could make for a good interview for SQUIB CENTRAL. Unfortunately, the meet-and-greet never materialized. The show was a go for me, though.
The concert was on Friday, March 12, 2004, at the Hamilton Place, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. For the record: I hate traveling to Canada. Nothing against the country itself, or the people, but in these times of war and uncertainty, I really feel uncomfortable leaving the U.S. It’s more a hassle than anything else, which I suppose is a good thing, considering a long line of vehicles and a lengthy wait to cross the border simply means the customs agents are doing their jobs and thoroughly examining the travelers. Still, it’s a royal pain in the ass (especially the involuntary cavity searches). For me to make the trek into Canada, the concert has to be something really enticing, something out of the ordinary. The last time I crossed the border to check out a show was to see AUDIOSLAVE in a small club in Toronto. After watching Chris Cornell and Company do their soundcheck (including a vicious take of RUSH’s “Working Man”), I knew that even if for some reason the U.S./Canadian borders were shut down and I was trapped in Canada for the rest of my life, I’d still die happy. TOM JONES was no Chris Cornell in my book, but my friend Johnny Icon really had no one else to attend the concert with on that evening, so I figured, What are friends for?
When I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to join us, it seemed that she had the same attitude and perception of TOM JONES that I had. For whatever reason, I was expecting someone like Austin Powers to be up there on the stage, singing about shagging or the like. My girl thought the same thing, I guess. (I was half-right, at least the part concerning singing about shagging, that is.) Anyway, she bailed out on me, and I have to admit, I couldn’t help but chuckle knowing that people might get the wrong impression about two guys sitting together at a TOM JONES concert, but what can you do? I was thinking about wearing a sign that read, “NO, REALLY, WE’RE STRAIGHT,” but then that would have reeked of insecurity. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I just couldn’t get the poster board and markers in time. Instead I sat there, dead center in the second row (and “comped” tickets, no less; these concert-promoters have all the hook-ups, I tell ya), hoping no one I knew recognized me.
Hamilton Place is a beautiful theater with near-perfect acoustics, holding maybe a few thousand seats. According to the show’s promoter, it had been sold out for something like eight weeks. My friend pounded down a beer or two pre-show, while I sipped Diet Cokes. Due to another previous commitment, I had to be up at 6 a.m. the next morning. I took to people watching. Lots of people in wheel chairs. Loads of ‘em. These very elderly (read: ancient) people with their wheel chairs and walkers must have either taken the wrong exit to the bingo hall or wrongly thought that it was a casting call for DAWN OF THE DEAD, since the place was crammed wall-to-wall with the soon-to-be deceased. The scent of moth balls wafted through the air. And then, inexplicably, business began to pick up. We’re talking women, and loads of them. Hot women. Single or not, on this evening, all the ladies were flying solo, because what guy in his right mind would be caught dead at a TOM JONES concert?
As far as the actual concert, it was…simply off the hook. TJ is the mack daddy. Seriously. Johnny Icon was right on the money: TOM JONES is the man. TOM came out fighting. There was his insanely infectious “Tom Jones International,” off his most recent release, MR. JONES. WYCLEF JEAN’s fingerprints are all over this track, and in this case, that’s a good thing. WYCLEF showed great promise with his solo debut and departure from rap supergroup THE FUGEES, with his album WYCLEF JEAN PRESENTS THE CARNIVAL. Unfortunately, everything since has been hit or miss, mostly falling in the latter category. WYCLEF, along with JERRY WONDER, produced TOM’s latest album, MR. JONES, and the production is top notch. Throughout the night TOM kept dropping WYCLEF’s name, but I have a feeling that only Johnny Icon and I knew who he was referring to.
The team of WYCLEF and JERRY WONDER wrote pretty much all of the tracks on MR. JONES. What does this mean? Simply put, TOM’s still in the game. After all these years, the man’s music is still relevant because it’s still evolving,--and he’s still striving to be taken seriously. That speaks volumes for an artist at this stage in his career. At this point TOM JONES could be totally coasting, cashing in on his name value doing nothing but virtual karaoke at county fairs. Or he could take the ELTON JOHN route and become a total parody of himself. After seeing TJ’s show last Friday night, I realized TOM JONES is a seasoned pro who still relishes waking up knowing he’ll be performing to a captive crowd each night.
The concert was full of surprises and revelations for me. Among them, an inspired cover of THE TALKING HEADS’ “Burning Down the House.” Hearing TOM JONES sing “Burning Down the House” is a lot like hearing JOHNNY CASH’s take of NINE INCH NAILS’ “Hurt.” It’s totally out of left field, but it’s a perfect fit. And then there was a version of PRINCE’s “Kiss” that TOM just owned. He made that song his personal bitch.
And in regard to the ladies, you ask, do they still dig the man? Yeah, they dig him, you can say that. During “She’s a Lady,” panties a plenty rained down on the stage. When’s the last time you saw that at a JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE concert? TOM JONES is the innovator, and by the look of things, he’s still the master.
The highlight of the evening was TJ performing his achingly touching, autobiographical “Younger Days,” also off MR. JONES. TOM felt this one, and it showed. Think SINATRA’s “The September of My Years.” This is TOM’s version, and because it’s brutally honest and authentic, it hits you in the gut. In it, TOM talks about his glory years, “ ’65, ’66, and ’67,” and the subsequent lull in the dimmed spotlight.
“When Madison Square Garden no longer screams for me/
And the record company don’t send no limos for me.
And the young girls, they think that I’m too old…/
And I go through New York with no security/
And on the billboards I’m no longer number one…/
With a mike and a guitar/
I used to rock it on any stage/
I know I’ll be OK when I think of the young days.”
By the sound of things, Mr. Jones, you’re going to be better than okay. Maybe the best is yet to come.
Unfortunately, JOSH JABCUGA was detained on the Canadian side of the border. He’ll return next week with his delayed tribute to the musical legacy of JEFF BUCKLEY and the 10th anniversary of the release of GRACE. JOSH’s SQUIB CENTRAL is published every Thursday, exclusively at www.moviepoopshoot.com.
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