Published on theMusic.com.au, Mar 2016
Tom Jones, Mahalia Barnes & The Soul Mates
Kings Park & Botanic Garden
A funk-soul frenzy greeted punters in the form of Mahalia Barnes & The Soulmates, the perfect concoction of moody guitar riffs and soaring vocals to counteract the Sunday blues.
Soulful lead guitar and Barnes’ trademark piercing vocals pulsated through the PA, carried by bass from Ben Rodgers, her husband. The pair’s vocals complimented one another perfectly when things went a little more rock in The Same Thing Happens, off the band’s latest EP, but it was when they tackled endeared classics that they truly won over the crowd.
Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High got people up and dancing, swarming the area side of stage, Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman incited singalongs, and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Rollin’ On The River combined all the best parts of their performance for a diverse conclusion that set the mood nicely for Sir Tom Jones.
A punter’s Wales flag hung in the middle of the crowd, with nonsensical chants radiating out as thick rock guitar broke the darkness. A dapper Jones meant business, as he marched out to Burning Hell, surrounded by only two guitarists and a drummer. His mission statement was simple: this was a rock show.
“Is it hot enough here?” he chuckled, leaping into a song he came to know during his Las Vegas days with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down. After injecting a gospel edge, the rest of the band joined him for Mavis Staples’ Don’t Knock, which, accompanied by Didn’t It Rain, and further established that direction.
An explosive horns section graced the stage and all the elements were in place for the Sex Bomb to go off, a hit that took an unexpected jazz direction and saw panties get airborne.
With a blood red backdrop, emotion-heavy Delilah made the audience sway in sync and shout its villainous lyrics with passion until Jones pulled the mood back with I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.
Rolling through an arsenal that included an accordion, banjo and tuba, Jones and band unleashed hits Green, Green Grass Of Home, It’s Not Unusual and more, ultimately at their best with guitar-driven blues rock numbers like Soul Of A Man and upbeat crowd-favourites that included Joe Cocker’s You Can Leave Your Hat On.
Not relying on overzealous production elements, the show rested almost entirely on Jones’ powerful voice, as evident during the stripped-back Elvis Presley Blues and Leonard Cohen’s Tower Of Song.
At 75 years of age and 50 years after his first visit Down Under, Jones’ energy and vocals didn’t fault once during a set that spanned countless hits across blues, country, rock, gospel, jazz and more finishing with an expected cover ofStrange Things Happen Everyday, missing out the frequently requested What’s New Pussycat.