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“Do Something To Me!” Tommy James and the Shondells LIVE! at the Ocean City Music Pier

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

The boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ is packed this cool, cloudy August 17, 2021 evening, but outside the Ocean City Music Pier, music lovers are already making their way off the public walk and inside the historic venue for a live concert by Tommy James and the Shondells.

Tommy James is one of the most popular artists of the 1960s. With hits like “Hanky Panky,” “Gettin’ Together,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and “Do Something to Me,” James has sold over 100 million records worldwide. More than 300 artists including Bruce Springsteen, Santana, R.E.M., Billy Idol, Cher, Joan Jett, and Kelly Clarkson have covered his songs. His music has also been heard in 60 motion pictures and in over 50 television shows including The Simpsons, Criminal Minds, and Breaking Bad.

James’s critically-acclaimed autobiography, Me, The Mob and the Music, was included on Rolling Stone’s list of “Top 25 Music Memoirs” and is now in pre-production for a feature film. James is also currently the host of his own weekly show on SIRIUS/XM radio, Gettin’ Together with Tommy James, which can be heard worldwide on the platform’s popular ’60s on 6 channel.

As we make our way into the Ocean City Music Pier, we take a moment to chat with Carol Ross, Tommy James’ manager for the past 25 years. When asked what it’s been like being back on the road after an 18-month hiatus, Ross replies, “It’s going to take a bit more time to get back to normal, so we’re taking it one show at a time,” before adding, “but Tommy is always thrilled to come ‘down the shore’ and perform — as he’s been saying, coming down here is like a vacation day for him!” Acknowledging, “This is only Tommy’s second show since COVID — his first one went off perfectly,” Ross reveals, “but he’ll be back in New Jersey on November 13 with a concert at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway where he may even perform some new tunes.”

Inside the Music Pier’s historic auditorium, the stage is lined with rows of speakers, guitars, a drum set, an organ, a rack of keyboards, and multiple Marshall amps. The Shondells take their places on stage, warming up as the crowd cheers before Tommy James makes his entrance and picks up his guitar to join in the rockin’ intro to his 1971 solo hit, “Draggin’ the Line.”

His voice sounding as clear as ever, James sings, “Makin’ a livin’ the old, hard way/Takin’ and givin’ by day by day/I dig snow and rain and the bright sunshine/Draggin’ the line,” as lights flash, vocal harmonies ring out, and the sound of the live bass resonates throughout the hall.

Phones are up as people video the performance and folks sing along before cheering, hands clapping over their heads. James announces, “Ocean City, it’s great to be here! I’m from Jersey! How the hell are ya? Tonight we’re going to throw everything at you! Why don’t we put your energy with ours and make something happen?”

Blue lights flash to the beat as a tremelo electric guitar plays and James croons the lyrics to his classic 1968 Top Ten hit, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Audience members happily sing along before clapping and cheering for this obvious fan favorite.

Announcing, “This is only our second concert in one-and-a-half years,” James jokes, “Anything can happen — I could forget the words to ‘Hanky Panky’ — but what happens in Jersey stays in Jersey!”

Toes tap to the wailing guitar and classic organ on the group’s next number, “Say I Am,” before James and Co. delight the crowd with the bubblegum sounds of “Gettin’ Together,” the spotlight gleaming off Tommy’s electric guitar.

After performing the “This Old Man”-inspired “It’s Only Love” — and asserting, “You’re a very nice audience, God bless you!” — James picks up his acoustic guitar, joking, “Now for a few of my country hits!” He proceeds to tell the audience how his memoir, Me, the Mob, and the Music, is slated to become a motion picture and describes the final musical number in the film as a slowed-down version of his classic tune, “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Audience members sing along to James’ mainly “unplugged” version of the song, obviously enjoying this extremely emotional rendition of “I Think We’re Alone Now” where the lyrics take on a completely new meaning.

Following cheers and a standing ovation, Tommy and the band move on to a powerful and driving rendition of “Ball of Fire” — a song which features stunning live vocal harmonies — before continuing with the 1970 hit James co-wrote and produced for the group, Alive N Kickin’. Filled with mighty harmonies and power chords, lights flash as he and the band put a fresh spin on the million-seller, “Tighter, Tighter.”

The crowd cheers as Tommy and the band ramp things up even further with a performance of James’ 1968 #1 smash, the psychedelic “Crimson and Clover.” On this number, Tommy sings with feeling, “Ah, now I don’t hardly know her/But I think I could love her/Crimson and clover,” before being accompanied by a veritable wall of sound on this classic rock ballad which sold over five million copies.

The crowd cheers, whistles, and stands for this epic performance, and James and the band respond with a song that really gets the crowd moving — 1966’s “Hanky Panky” — the crowd cheering and clapping heartily at the end.

Tommy and the boys follow up with a second version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” — this time, an up-tempo rendition, à la the one heard on the original 1967 Top 5 recording — rocking the room as audience members dance and cheer.

1968’s catchy “Do Something To Me” seems particularly noteworthy in 2021 as Tommy croons, “C’mon, do something to me/Help me to ease all the worry.” Then, the James’ gang launches into an electric version of one of the greatest party songs in the history of popular music, Tommy’s 1968’s Top Ten smash, “Mony Mony.” Audience members dance on the sidelines while the band vamps, and James scats as the guitar echoes him before leading the audience in a call-and-response sing-along to the song’s classic “Feels so good!” lyric.

After receiving yet another standing ovation, James and Co. perform an encore of Tommy’s soulful 1969 Top Ten hit, “Sweet Cherry Wine.” They follow up with a rollicking rendition of 1967’s “Mirage,” before concluding tonight’s festivities with a rockin’ reprise of “Mony Mony,” at which time audience members leap to their feet with sustained cheers and applause.

“Goodnight, Ocean City!” exclaims Tommy to the happy crowd.

As we make our way out of the Music Pier’s auditorium, we talk with several members of the audience who share their opinions of tonight’s concert with us.

First, we chat with Greg and Arlene from Upper Township. Exclaims Greg, “Tommy James sounds great! He’s 74 years old and he hasn’t lost any of his voice — plus he’s so energetic!”

Arlene agrees, asserting, “I love his hits — I’m just in love with his music!” adding, “My favorite song tonight was ‘I Think We’re Alone Now.’ It was so interesting to see how he changed it up,” before noting, “Last year, it was really tough not being able see any concerts, but it’s great to be able to come here to the ocean and hear live musicians like Tommy James again.”

Next, we chat with Lukas, 16, from Mount Laurel, who is attending tonight’s show with his mom. Explains Lukas, “I’m here in Ocean City for the summer — I work at the beach — and when I found out Tommy James was performing tonight, I just had to come.” Continuing, “I love 60’s music!” Lukas recalls, “I got into it at my grandparents house, and, also, from random exposure — like seeing The Monkees on TV and then exploring more ’60s music — and now I feel it’s the best decade of music.” Adding, “My favorite song tonight was ‘Draggin’ the Line’ — but I loved them all,” Lukas also notes, “I’m going to continue to enjoy Tommy’s music both on vinyl and Spotify.”

Lastly, we chat with Marsha from Collegeville, PA who declares, “Tommy James was just fabulous! Amazing! His voice has soul, just as it always has,” before concluding, “What can I say? He’s still got it! He played hit after hit and he nailed all of ‘em!”

To learn more about Tommy James and the Shondells, please go tommyjames.com. For more info on Tommy James and the Shondells upcoming November 13, 2021 performance at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, please click on ucpac.org. To learn more about future shows at the Ocean City Music Pier, please go to ocnj.us/SummerConcertSeries.

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For the best in Jersey entertainment news and reviews, keep it focused on Spotlight Central

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