So, we went to the Hollywood Bowl this last week to see Tom Jones and Van Morrison perform.
I know, right?
We’ve been ticking off the 70’s icons of rock and folk over the last few years, going to see concerts by Elton John, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Tony Bennett (with Lady Gaga), and Fleetwood Mac, so a Tom Jones/Van Morrison pairing was right in line with our desires.
I didn’t know what to expect, I was so sure it was going to be awesome.
And it was. But one thing really stuck out for me, and that’s the artist’s attitude toward and communication with the audience.
The master? Tom Jones.
Tom Jones, first of all, has changed only superficially since the 70’s. He’s stopped coloring his hair, and is now sporting a short white beard and snow white hair. He SOUNDS as vital and strident and piercingly masculine as ever. Amazing.
He stands solidly and moves well. He’s a handsome devil, but also very warm to the crowd and charming.
He told stories, about singing gospel songs after shows in Vegas with Elvis, and about meeting Van Morrison a million years ago. You could hear every word he said in every tune. He actually performed the hell out of the numbers, even the silly ones, like Sex Bomb.
He let us sing along, (as if he could stop us) and gave us a turn at verses in Delilah, and others.
I had cognitions during his songs, which often ask deep questions, like What IS the Soul of a Man?
He sang Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song, which was particularly moving, given this time in his life and career. His might be the PERFECT voice for this number.
He gave a deferential half bow, arms out to the sides, after every tune. And every now and then he asked, even though it was unnecessary, if we were “doing alright?” Oh, yes.
When he relinquished the stage to Van Morrison, I thought, “Glad I’m following that.”
Van might have had the same thought. He didn’t show it.
His approach was the opposite in many ways.
He didn’t tell stories, except through his songs. He never took off his sunglasses. He didn’t introduce his excellent band mates until two hours later, when applause made their names inaudible. He never once bowed or said thanks, and ran one song into another with the barest possible break in between, as if he was ticking them off a list. He walked offstage twice while the band vamped, then came back on.
He did have Tom Jones back to sing with him a couple times, but it looked under-rehearsed, at least as far as having the Welshman up to speed with his well-worn routine.
His set went on far too long for me. And then he just walked away, letting the band do the last bits, and no encore. Which by that time was fine with me.
I like Van Morrison’s music. I didn’t care for the “man”– his persona.
Maybe if he’d been performing alone on the bill I’d have been more awed. But on the occasion of this pairing, I have to say, one master emerged: Tom Jones.
Manners? Politeness? Gentility? Professionalism? Diction? Humor? All categories dominated by Tom Jones.
What does this teach me?
Entertainment is for the audience, not just the performer and his most ardent followers. Ideally, an artist is continuing to introduce himself to new people, and reintroduce himself to his own audience continually, and in the present moment, not letting his past triumphs stand in place of what he is capable of delivering TODAY.
An artist who doesn’t seem to care whether his audience is receiving his message or enjoying it or being affected by it, will sooner or later begin to notice the steady stream of people walking to their cars long before the end of the show.
Maybe, in the case of Van Morrison, it was a bad night. Maybe he had a feckin’ cold. I don’t know. He sounds great, exactly as on the recordings. But in a side-by-side comparison “Taste test” with Tom Jones, he definitely didn’t dazzle.
And if Tom Jones wants to open for ME someday, I plan to politely decline the invitation.