The idea of a 68-year-old man crooning Prince’s “Kiss” while lifting his shirt and rubbing his stomach is not especially appealing. But that was the climax of Tom Jones’ hugely entertaining Friday night set at L.A. Live’s Club Nokia in a 100-minute show that found the Welsh singer having more fun than would appear healthy for a man his age.
“The older I get/The better I was” he confides in “In Style and Rhythm,” the snaky, Bono and Edge-written highlight from last year’s “24 Hours” (S-Curve). The album successfully placed Jones in an Amy Winehouse/Duffy retro soul setting; at the Nokia, he performed his songs with an energy, flair and wit that should put performers half his age to shame. His voice has retained its size — he can still blast through, but he’s canny in parceling the power, saving his big notes for the tunes’ emotional climaxes.
The new songs present him as a knowing silver-haired sage, announcing his virility (his rambunctious cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I’m Alive” that opens both the album and show), offering younger men mating advice (the aforementioned “In Style”), consoling their women (the slippery seduction of “If Ever He Should Leave You”) and declaring his imperfect but passionate love (the pounding melodrama of “Never” and rueful rationale of “The Road”).
But then, American music has never been far from the Welsh crooner’s heart, as the rest of his set made clear. Jones gracefully takes on country (Porter Wagoner’s maudlin death-row ballad “Green, Green Grass of Home”); blues (a bawdy, hip-shaking “200 Pounds of Joy,” with Jones wryly noting that he slimmed the song down from Howlin’ Wolf’s “300 Pounds”); boogie woogie (a rollicking stroll down Jerry Lee Lewis’ “End of the Road”); Vegas (a loving take of Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”); and even polka (the jaunty “Help Yourself”).
They’re played by a tight, nine-piece band — including horns and backup singers and anchored by the powerfully flexible drumming of Herman Matthews — that’s adept at whatever style the song demands. Studded throughout were Jones’ big hits, including the lustily romantic “It’s Not Unusual” and “She’s a Lady.”