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Tom Jones delivers taproot blues and soul before a sold-out Uptown crowd

Tom Jones performed to a sold-out crowd Wednesday at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City.
Tom Jones performed to a sold-out crowd Wednesday at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. Special to the Star

Tom Jones is both the beneficiary and the consequence of his illustrious past.

Now a knighted 76-year-old singer/entertainer dealing with the recent death of his wife of more than 50 years and navigating a stylistic swerve into gritty, taproot blues, Jones seems obligated to straddle diverging personas: the hyper-sexual Welsh soul singer who, decades ago, inspired women to shower him with affection (in the form of underwear), and, these days, the introspective widower who seems to have taken stock in rewards deeper, more satisfying and less superficial than flattery and lust.

Wednesday night, Jones drew a sold-out crowd of nearly 1,600 fans to the Uptown Theater, where he and his nine-piece band delivered nearly two hours of music that plumbed his more recent roots/blues material and scanned his solid-gold days, when he prowled stages in snug bell-bottoms and low-buttoned shirts.

Backed only by a drummer and electric guitarist, he opened with two songs from his 2010 album, “Praise & Blame”: “Burning Hell,” an unvarnished version of a John Lee Hooker song, then the traditional gospel-blues song “Run On,” which followed a brief recollection of his friendship with Elvis Presley in the 1970s.

On his version of Odetta’s “Hit or Miss,” he was joined for the first time by the entire nine-piece band, which turned the song into a jaunty country-blues number, a la Keb’ Mo’ or Mississippi John Hurt.

On his cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” the three-piece horn section included a tuba, which gave the song a slight Dixieland flavor. Then came the horn-laden “Didn’t It Rain,” which featured a keen gospel vibe, like Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like a Rock.”

Nostalgia wasn’t the theme, but it was an undercurrent to the show and it arrived in varying flavors. Behind Jones and the band all night, a video screen broadcast a variety of images, including cartoons that looked like they were from the 1940s and footage of Jones, on the screens of vintage TVs, and other celebrities during the 1960s and 1970s.

Nothing stirred memories like his solid-gold hits, however. The horn section turned Jones’ classic “Sex Bomb” into a libidinous Tower of Power funk anthem that aroused the first of several outbursts from the crowd, vocally and physically.

Before “Tomorrow Night,” a track from the “Long Lost Suitcase” album, released in October 2015, Jones related a memory about his wife, Melinda: That song was her favorite track from the album, he said solemnly, before delivering a sweet, jazzy rendition of the Horace Heidt classic.

Jones is in the thick of his 70s, but his voice sounded as buff, agile and majestic as ever. As “Take My Love” came to a close, he veered seamlessly into “Kansas City,” then afterward told the crowd: “I just threw that in. I don’t normally, but it has the same vibe.”

He followed that with a version of another solid-gold classic, “Delilah,” that was rearranged into a spaghetti Western/Ennio Morricone-ish anthem, rife with horns, prompting a widespread outburst of singing and dancing among a crowd that was amped-up and tuned-in all night.

Amid a set list flush with covers, a few stood out: “Elvis Presley Blues,” the funereal ode to Elvis written by Gillian Welch that Jones turned into something more haunting and ghostly; the soulful cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” during which Jones’ lived up to the lyric: “I was born with the gift of a golden voice”; and the homespun version of “Green, Green Grass of Home.”

Then, unto a crowd that seemed to be ravenously thirsting for more of his classics, Jones delivered two: a wonderful rearranged rendition of “What’s New, Pussycat?” rendered only in guitar, accordion and tuba that felt like a jazz/folk waltz; then a jazzed up version of “It’s Not Unusual” that aroused the crowd into a frenzy.

If there was an express moment of sexuality, it was during the cover of Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” in which Jones shed the jacket he was wearing, drawing plenty of hoots and whistles and a standing ovation from the crowd.

They finished the set with the fiery “I Wish You Could” that bore a heavy Led Zeppelin vibe.

They encored with the title theme to the James Bond movie, “Thunderball,” which included footage of the film on the screen behind Jones and the band, then his well-known cover of Prince’s “Kiss.” The finale was a version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” which included some fervent call-and-response between Jones and a crowd that unleashed much love upon him all night.

By show’s end, as he and his band took their bows, Jones looked appreciative and humbled, an entertainer grateful for all the blessings his life had bestowed upon him.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Set list

Burning Hell; Run On; Hit or Miss; Mama Told Me Not to Come; Didn’t It Rain; Sex Bomb; Tomorrow Night; Raise a Ruckus; Take My Love (I Want to Give It All to You); Delilah; St. James Infirmary Blues; Soul of a Man; Elvis Presley Blues; Tower of Song; Green, Green Grass of Home; What’s New, Pussycat?: It’s Not Unusual; You Can Leave Your Hat On; If I Only Knew; I Wish You Would. Encore: Thunderball; Kiss; Strange Things Happen Every Day.

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