Even before that sweat-soaked 59-year-old Welsh crooner Tom Jones set foot on the stage of the Warner Theatre Friday night, a horde of sedate-seeming-though-anything-but women of all ages were slipping panties out of their purses and pockets and waving them over their heads. Once the brawny baritone appeared in all his hip-swiveling glory, enough lingerie to stock a Victoria's Secret annex was flung at his feet, not to mention a number of roses. This decades-old tradition, a tribute to his swaggering sexuality, has more than a touch of nostalgia about it, and the great thing about Jones's performance was his ability to have fun with the utterly over-the-top persona he's created while more than holding his own vocally.
Backed by a well-oiled band that included a blaring brass section and three gyrating female backup singers, Jones belted his way through a seamless evening. The program included swinging '60s hits ("It's Not Unusual," "What's New Pussycat?," "Delilah"), country ballads retooled to his fit his bombastic style ("Green, Green Grass of Home") and alternative-dance-pop numbers ("If I Only Knew") that have paved the way for a comeback of sorts by the singer, particularly in the United Kingdom.
Dressed relatively tamely in a flatteringly snug black suit, shiny white shirt with black piping and an enormous gold crucifix, Jones worked the crowd like a master. Whether flashing enough chest hair to make Austin Powers jealous, punctuating his musical stylings with a series of choreographed stomps, kicks and elegant perspiration-wiping gestures or throwing his head back to wail like some hotblooded coyote, Jones knew just how to balance the kitschy and genuinely musical aspects of his craft. His voice is still as robustly plummy as ever, his timing top-notch and his lung power undiminished.
By evening's end, one woman had stripped off her shirt and heaved it at Jones, another rushed the stage and was removed by a bouncer, and the rest of the crowd was on its feet, swaying and screaming like manic teens. Within the confines of the Warner, it was hip to be a square.