Tom Jones and a Tiny Desk

NPR's Bob Boilen, the one-and-only Tom Jones, with Brian Monroney in the background. (©2009 NPR/Christopher Toothman)

To spend all day on the Internet is to quite often mumble to yourself, "Man, I wish I thought of that." But NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts elicits more than a mumble; it gets a full dejected groan and finger snap. The series was started by All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen because he saw folk singer Laura Gibson get drowned out by a chatty club crowd and decided that his desk would be a nice and quiet place where she could perform and people would be able to hear her.

And so it became a regular feature, with musicians such as Thao Nguyen, Dr. Dog and Woven Hand dropping by for the most intimate of mini-sets. Why isn't this happening at my desk? Because Bob Boilen thought of it first.

The biggest booking coup to date came last Wednesday when Tom Jones (watch the full video here) stopped by NPR's downtown offices for a brief set. I got a very special invite (as in, J. Freedom was on White House duty so I got to go instead, score!) and I wasn't about to turn it down.

Most of these shows attract a few curious onlookers from around the office, but when the British royalty (yes, he was knighted) showed up, the room was packed. Jones walked in, strolled to the "stage" -- Boilen's actual desk -- and things started right up. When asked if he needed to warm up, Jones gave a bit of a puzzled look and waved it off, as if to say, "Warm up? I'm Tom Bleepin' Jones, I've been singing for 45 years, it's what I do, I think I got it, thanks."

If his 9:30 club show was a bit lukewarm, this one succeeded because it was the exact opposite of that show, which Jones has been doing in various forms for four decades.

Jones was joined only by guitarist Brian Monroney; there was no staged dialogue, no screaming ladies, no pomp and circumstance. Jones was just there to sing.

And at 68 years old, the dude can still belt. Watch the subdued performance of "Green Green Grass of Home" and try not to be captivated. It's certainly more affecting than watching "She's a Lady" while someone throws underwear on stage, on cue.

In his review of the 9:30 show, Mark Jenkins noted that Jones "is an entertainer, not an artiste" -- and that's what made these 13 minutes so intriguing. It was a glimpse of Jones as an artiste, and it was pretty awesome.

By David Malitz |  March 2, 2009; 3:02 PM ET Guest Lists , Legends , Live Last Night
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Your Dr. Dog show was great. Many fans/family enjoyed it, as did the band. Thanks..

Posted by: cate-s | March 3, 2009 8:28 AM

Hey J! Can ya help us out here?:
Tanx man! DJ

Posted by: dschalton | March 3, 2009 11:46 PM

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