“One of the Best Concerts I’ve Ever Seen!” Tom Jones LIVE! at BergenPAC
By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery
It’s breezy and warm on this May 4, 2018 evening in Englewood NJ. Outside the community’s gem of a theater — the Bergen Performing Arts Center — a stunning silver Mercedes-Benz convertible sits. As the car’s stereo pumps out Tom Jones’ signature song, “It’s Not Unusual,” its emergency flashers blink to the beat! Since tonight’s Tom Jones concert is sponsored by Englewood’s own Benzel Busch Motor Cars, the music blasting from this sporty roadster helps to set a festive mood for the crowd of fans waiting to see this sold-out show!
Outside the venue, we speak with Donna from Middlesex who says about Tom Jones, “He’s my #1! I’ve seen him about 20 times and I own every one of his albums,” adding, “I’ve even planned trips to Atlantic City and Las Vegas knowing he was going to play there.”
Explaining why Jones is her favorite artist, Donna says, “His voice is phenomenal,” before noting, “and I also love his diversity. He sings it all — pop, rock, soul, gospel, and, of course, all of his great hits from the ‘60s.”
When asked if she’s ever witnessed any of the legendary throwing of panties onto the stage by zealous fans in the audience, Donna asserts, “I’ve never done that myself — but I have seen it,” noting, “even at Tom’s concert last year in New Jersey, panties were thrown!”
Also, out on the street, we meet with a pair of childhood friends — Irene and Marianne from Glen Rock — waiting outside BergenPAC for Marianne’s sisters to arrive for this evening’s concert.
“We are both huge fans,” reveals Irene, before confessing, “We used to watch Tom’s television show with our moms. I had a huge crush on Tom Jones when I was ten!”
Marianne nods in agreement and adds, “Listening to his music takes me back to a peaceful time when my mom was well.”
Acknowledging, “Even though my daughter calls me a ‘fake fan” — because I don’t know his entire repertoire by heart — I do like his greatest hits, so that makes me a real fan.” Insisting, however, that, “My daughter knows his music because I play it all the time,” Marianne asserts, “It connects me to my childhood, but is a thread which runs throughout my whole life.”
When Carmella and Louise — Marianne’s sisters — arrive, they’re happy to share their thoughts about their musical idol. Explains Carmella, “Tom Jones’ voice is phenomenal — and at his age, he’s still fabulous, with Louise commenting, “He’s amazing. There is no one younger who can even come close to Tom Jones!”
We make our way inside the beautiful BergenPAC auditorium just as the lights dim for tonight’s opening act, Into the Ark. Comprised of two young men from Blackwood, Wales — Dane Lloyd and Taylor Jones — the pair play acoustic guitars and sing in close harmony while accompanied by a third musician on drums.
After announcing, “We’re from the same place as Tom Jones. How about a round of applause for Tom taking us on tour with him?” the audience applauds.
Over the course of their 25-minute set, Into the Ark performs a mix of original tunes including their latest single, “Caroline,” a folk ballad which features rhythmic guitar strumming and a soulful John Legend-inspired lead vocal.
They also play several reimagined cover versions of other artists’ material, notably a stripped-down and emotional rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Burnin’ Love” and a slow and inspired version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”
Following appreciative applause — and a short intermission when stagehands get the set ready for tonight’s main act — fog begins to fill the stage and musicians take their places to the cheers and clapping of the sold-out crowd.
Guitar and drums count off and lights pulse to the funky beat as women in the crowd scream the moment they lay eyes on the iconic Welsh pop singer, Tom Jones, who opens his show with “Burning Hell.”
His voice sounding as fresh, full, and clear as ever at the age of 77, Jones sings, “I'm going down to the church house/Get down on a bended knee/Deacon Jones, pray for me/Deacon Jones, please pray for me,” while expertly supported by electric slide guitar and a pounding set of drums.
As the crowd cheers, Jones acknowledges his fans exclaiming, “Englewood, New Jersey — yeah!” at which point he tells a story about when he played in Vegas in the ’60s and listened to gospel music with Elvis Presley. Referring to his next song as “a favorite of Elvis’ and mine,” Jones performs the gospel tune, “Run On.” With drums, guitar, and bass ably driving the beat, Jones sings this classic gospel composition in a rockabilly style as lights flash to the rhythm.
A swirling organ introduction precedes Jones’ rendition of Randy Newman’s hit for Three Dog Night, “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).” Fans immediately begin dancing in the aisles to the purple and white lights which shower down on them from the BergenPAC stage.
A barrelhouse piano solo highlights the next piece, a gospel tune entitled “Didn’t It Rain.” Jones’ deep, rich vocal fills out the boogie-woogie arrangement — another selection which audience members can’t help but to dance and clap along with!
His voice crying with emotion, Jones sings a heartfelt rockin’ blues number, “Don’t Knock,” and follows that up by revealing, “I love this next song — it will make you think.” Sounding commanding on the spiritual, “My Lord Did Trouble Me,” Jones’ back-up musicians add color to the number with the unique sound of a twangy banjo in addition to his three-piece horn section.
A screaming electric guitar introduction plays slow and bluesy and makes several women in the audience start to scream and dance down the aisle as Jones sings and swings on “Sex Bomb.” A honking baritone sax accompanies his down and dirty vocal as these fans scream, “We love you, Tom!”
Taking us back to 1955, Jones recalls, “I left school at age 15 to work in a glove factory,” explaining to the crowd how hearing Bill Haley and The Comets’ hit, “Rock Around the Clock” at the time both “sparked me up” and was the impetus to “my learning how to dance.” Launching into a number which was ultimately recorded by both Elvis Presley and Little Richard, Jones and the band perform a driving rock and roll rendition of The Drifter’s “Money Honey” complete with honky-tonk piano and Jones’ soulful lead vocal.
Red lights swirl as fans stand and applaud for the rockin’ blues shuffle, “Take My Love,” before Jones segues into the classic Willie Dixon blues composition, “Talk to Me Baby.” The horn players sing backup to Jones’ lead on this call and response song which features two keyboards and a slide guitar.
Revealing to the audience, “Last night, I went to New York City and saw a Jersey Boy — not Jersey Boys, the Broadway show, but a Jersey Boy — Bruce Springsteen on Broadway,” Jones comments, “It was a fantastic show. It was just him telling his life story and singing songs, and it was real and it was fantastic — so natural and great,” before musing, “Maybe I’ll do a show like that!”
The audience applauds and then Jones says, “I was a judge on The Voice UK, and on the show, I turned around for these two young Welsh boys.” Here, he invites Into the Ark’s Dane Lloyd and Taylor Jones back to the stage to sing two American classics — a rhythmic version of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and a country-rock rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” which features the full Tom Jones band with horns.
The audience goes crazy when Jones launches into his 1969 Top 20 hit, “Delilah.” Opening with a slow guitar and vocal intro, the arrangement shifts into a funky Latin beat. No longer a waltz, the audience sings along on the ubiquitous “Why, why, why Delilah?” chorus before the number features a jazzy instrumental break with horns. By the end of the performance, the crowd is standing and cheering for this updated rendition, everyone clearly appreciating Jones and his musicians’ tremendous talent.
Following “Soul of a Man” — a rockin’ delta blues tune by Blind Willie Johnson — Jones performs one of the highlight numbers of the evening, a stellar rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Featuring acoustic guitar and piano, this ballad perfectly showcases Jones’ excellent phrasing. His vocal comes directly from the heart as he sings, “Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey/ I ache in places where I used to play” before moving on to, “I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” The audience responds with warm applause to his emotional performance.
Moving on to his 1966 worldwide hit, “The Green Green Grass of Home,” Jones has the audience singing along with him and rekindling fond memories of times and places from yesteryear.
The sound of a sousaphone takes center stage along with acoustic guitar and accordion on Jones’ 1965 hit, “What’s New Pussycat.” As the audience happily sways to the oom-pah-pah band, they join in singing on the infamous “Woah, woah, woah” chorus before ultimately responding with a standing ovation for Jones’ record-copy performance!
The entire house roars its approval as Jones and the band set the building on fire with their updated rendition of Jones’ signature song, 1965’s “It’s Not Unusual” — an arrangement which features electric guitar, bass, and drums in addition to acoustic guitar and accordion all supporting Jones’ spot-on vocal.
With many of the crowd still on their feet, the audience claps to the sexy bass, piano, and horns of Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” As fans sing and move to the slow, sexy groove, Jones and company keep this bold and brassy arrangement cookin’ while lights flash overhead.
Rap is a highlight of Jones’ 1994 hip-hop tune, “If I Only Knew,” a number on which the audience is both energized by Jones’ tongue-twister-esque vocal and a blisteringly hot electric guitar solo.
For the final number of the night, rockin’ horns and electric guitar play a Bo Didley-inspired rhythmic feel on “I Wish You Would.” The crowd responds to this 1950s-era rocker with screams, cheers, and a standing ovation!
After leaving the stage, Jones and company return to even more cheers and play an encore version of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” As couples slow dance in the aisles, Jones impresses the BergenPAC crowd with his trademark phrasing and vibrato. When the audience joyfully responds with applause, Jones simply responds, “Louis Armstrong — that’s good.”
Another high point of tonight’s concert is Jones’ and the band’s encore performance of “Kiss” by Prince. Starting with two perfectly-synchronized funk guitars, the band adds bass, organ, horns, and drums on this infectious number which comes complete with a purple rainbow of lights shining down on the stage while both the musicians and audience members in the house sing along and dance.
For his third and final encore, Jones announces, “We are going to play a rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country song with a little boogie-woogie thrown in, too!” and that’s exactly what they do on their explosive rendition of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” with Jones, the musicians, and the crowd having an incredible time together!
At the conclusion of the program, we chat with several fans who share their thoughts about tonight’s performane with us.
First, we speak with Linda from Paramus, who is here with her 11-year-old son, Evan, and her friend, Marie. Says Linda, “Tom Jones is super talented — he looks amazing and sounds fantastic!’ before noting, “I knew his old songs, but I never knew he could also sing the blues, soul, and gospel.”
States Evan, “I hear Tom Jones’ music in the car — my parents play it all the time,” adding, “I thought the concert was amazing. I really liked it a lot; my favorite song was ‘It’s Not Unusual.’”
Marie from Toms River exclaims, “Tom Jones sounds fantastic!” declaring, “I love his classics, but his new stuff was amazing, too — he hit every note perfectly.”
Next, we chat with a group of fans who traveled from New York to Englewood to experience tonight’s performance.
Says Paul — who is originally from Dublin, but who now hails from New York City — “I’m a long-time fan of Tom Jones,” recalling, “I’ve seen him about 15 or 20 times, and, tonight, he was as good as he’s ever been.”
Paul’s friend, Kathleen from Forest Hills, echoes his thoughts stating, “I loved Tom Jones tonight — I think he’s better than ever,” before joking, “I only wish I had his energy!”
Zoey from New York City comments, “I was amazed by Tom Jones’ voice. He’s the consummate entertainer. The programming was inspiring, too — there was a perfect blend of old and new material.”
Another long-time fan, Scott from Brooklyn, declares, “The voice is still the voice! There’s no denying who the best singer on the planet is! Tom Jones is a soul singer, and that’s what people need to remember about him — his music is from his soul!”
And what does Donna — the fan with whom we talked before tonight’s show — think about Tom Jones’ performance this evening?
Exclaims Donna, “He was fantastic! His voice sounded incredible — better than ever,” before concluding, “This was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen!”
For further information about Tom Jones, please go to tomjones.com. To find out more about Into the Ark, please click on intothearkofficial.com. For more info on future performances at BergenPAC — including Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters on June 1, Remembering John Denver starring Ted Vigil on August 7, and Engelbert Humperdinck on October 12 — please go to bergenpac.org.