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Of all of this year’s Non Comm performers, Tom Jones was likely the most iconic figure among them. As a TV variety show and Las Vegas favorite, Jones was a baritone-voiced crooner who, from the 1960s onward, sold over 100 million records as he belted out dozens of Top 40 hits. He had a full repertoire of memorable songs that he could have delved into, but soothing orchestral strings and lady-seducing showmanship was not to be heard or seen that night. Instead, Jones filled his set with Blues and Gospel covers from his two most recent albums: 2010’s Praise & Blame and his newly released The Spirit In The Room.
Unsurprisingly, Jones’s clear and booming voice was just as powerful as it was in his heyday. From the very beginning of his set, which began with Lenard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” off The Spirit In The Room, Jones’ conducted himself like a world-weary cowboy from an opera that took place in the Old West. Some songs expressed confidence and jubilance like Spirit In The Room’s lead single, Odetta Gordon’s “Hit or Miss,” while others took on a more mournful and longing tone, like Paul McCartney’s “(I Want To) Come Home” and Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day.” There were also songs that saw Jones confronted his own mortality and spirituality like the harrowing “What is the Soul of a Man” by Blind Willie Johnson, which was made even more harrowing by an ominous bass drum beat, a slow guitar, and a set of clanging chains.
Tom Jones had also uncharacteristically experimented with Blues-Rock numbers like John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” and Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In,” which featured multiple guitar solos that would’ve made Carlos Santana proud. Even Jones’ performance of “Traveling Shoes” seemed like something straight out of a Western film. These were balanced out with more Gospel-like tracks such as “If I Give My Soul,” which told the story of a man who was lead astray by his pursuit of Rock and Roll (ironic considering the night’s set list). Regardless, Jones ended his performance on a high note with a version of “Didn’t it Rain” featuring a stellar saloon-style piano solo that reminded convention goers why the piano was once considered a staple rock instrument. Tom Jones made a ballsy move avoiding the hits he made his name with, but it revealed that he didn’t need to rely on hits to put on a great show. Plus his set list suggested that he was ready to put his crooner and entertainer image behind him in pursuit of something more sincere.