Tom Jones MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas, Nev., January 15

Live Shots

Tom Jones

MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas, Nev., January 15

Anyone going to Las Vegas for a whiff of regal tough-guy ambience will surely be disappointed by the Disney-style mega-resorts now dominating the Strip. One glance at the minions of provincials in sweatpants robotically feeding slot machines is all it takes to lay the crazy Sin City mythos to rest. Yet despite the rise of garish casinos masquerading as simulacra of Western civilization, a few vestiges of Vegas' bygone days survive and thrive, like the opportunity to see Tom Jones in a 650-seat showroom. This venerable Welsh troubadour brought planeloads of gamblers to Vegas long before the advent of fake volcanoes and pirate shows, but he's no museum-piece anachronism. Jones remains relevant with make-it-look-easy showmanship and a highly theatrical take on blue-eyed soul that's wholly his own. Women in their 20s and 30s still get oiled up at the sight of the nearly 60-year-old Jones' effortless swivel-hips. When it comes to working the room, he knows what he's doing, too. This was apparent from the moment he confidently strode onstage to the strains of "Turn On Your Love Light," following with a one-two punch of "Help Yourself" and "She's a Lady." In between songs, women in the front row handed washcloths to Jones; after wiping his brow, he would return the sweat-suffused cloth to the lucky lady in question and bend down to give her a kiss. At that moment, every woman in the room wanted to be that lady in the front row and every man wanted to be Jones. "Delilah," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and "Green, Green Grass of Home" were obvious crowd-pleasers, but an unexpected highlight was Jones' gritty rendition of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," which Jones sings backed by Stereophonics on his new, import-only Reload LP. The concert's sole less-than-groovy note came when Jones sang Marc Cohn's execrable "Walking in Memphis," proving the old showbiz adage that if Jones can't make your song sound good, it must really suck. He quickly recovered with a panty-throwing romp through "What's New Pussycat" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (another Newman tune) before closing with "It's Not Unusual." The encore featured a spirited "Resurrection Shuffle" and Prince's "Kiss" as interpolated by Jones and the Art of Noise. Everything about the show, from Jones' amazing vocal range to the horn charts to the lighting, ran in greased grooves. While $60 is a lot to pay to see anyone, a ticket to a Tom Jones show guarantees you a fine-tuned yet personable hour-plus memory that won't be watered down like the drinks you get while playing the quarter slots.

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