Tom Jones and Brian Wilson headline as Bluesfest comes to a close for 2016

The fifth and final day of Bluesfest 2016 played heavy on nostalgia, with a double-bill headliner in Brian Wilson and Tom Jones, while some of the festival’s favourite returning acts kept the quality consistent throughout the day in the lead-up to a site-closing blues extravaganza by supergroup The Original Blues Brothers Band, who brought an epic celebratory styled set to the Crossroads stage while Jason Isbell closed Jambalaya, and nine-piece The Selecter played out the Juke Joint.

Much of the hype that has been built up over these past few days was fully realised with packed encore performances by the likes of Allen Stone, St Paul & The Broken Bones, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, all of which drew large crowds to the Jambalya tent earlier on in the afternoon after the one-two punch of traditional, front-porch blues from Blind Boy Paxton at Juke Joint, and the great Taj Mahal at Crossroads, both artists who brought a more raw, poetic style of blues to the festival’s final day.

“We can’t get back here soon enough”, beamed Paul Janeway of St Paul & The Broken Bones, reflecting on the band’s three stand-out performances across the weekend, playing their final Australian show (on this tour) to a very enthusiastic crowd, a great way to wave a temporary goodbye to one of the weekend’s most talked about bands.

Festival regular Steve Smyth beefed up his howlin’ live set with a three-piece brass ensemble at the Delta Stage, while ARIA Hall of Fame-er Russell Morris made his anticipated return to Blusfest over on the Mojo stage.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson brought his full touring band with him to give us not just the entire tracklist of the seminal record, but also a few Beach Boys hits which he has involved in during his time with the iconic group. Fellow original members Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin were on hand to help bring these songs to life, a task which the full band handled extremely well with beautifully, densely layered harmonies helped along massively by the fact that Jardine’s son, Matt, sounds eerily similar to what Wilson sounded like in his prime, possessing a creamy falsetto that sticks out from the harmonies and really revives that classic Beach Boys signature sound.

With a set list of around 30 songs, including two instrumental pieces, and all the hits – “Don’t Worry Baby”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “I Get Around” – that Wilson was involved in, the extended performance did more than just lean on nostalgia, it recreated these classics with small jazzy, arena-rock flourishes that in a way updated these songs while still staying faithful to the original sound. Nothing could beat the atmosphere when “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows” popped up.

Those unfamiliar with Tom Jones on a deeper level than just the hits wouldn’t have expected his performance to steal the show and end up being one of the best, most enjoyable sets of the weekend, but when all was said and done, straight after a classy version of Prince’s “Kiss”, the resilient 75 year old – who was amazingly animated for his age – Jones stood loud and proud as the over-capacity crowd gave a deafening ovation, seemingly overwhelmed with the reception.

From turning “Sex Bomb” into a gospel-touched jazz ballad to stripping back the brass of “It’s Not Unusual” and performing a focused version of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”, Tom Jones’ show was non-stop entertainment, assisted by a fantastic band under the direction of legend in his own right, Gary Wallis, whose direction was responsible for some nice touches like the bassline of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” slowly creeping in to “If I Only Knew”. “I was born with the gift of a golden voice”, he sang as he covered said “Tower of Song”, a line to which the crowd cheered and nodded in agreement as Jones’ showed that his crispy, deep, and soulful voice has only aged like a fine red wine.

Tom Jones Set List

Burning Hell (John Lee Hooker song)
Run On
Didn’t It Rain
Don’t Knock (Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples song)
Sex Bomb
Tomorrow Night (Lonnie Johnson song)
Raise a Ruckus Tonight
Take My Love (I Want To Give It)
Soul of a Man (Blind Willie Johnson song)
Elvis Presley Blues (Gillian Welch song)
Tower of Song (Leonard Cohen song)
Green Green Grass of Home
It’s Not Unusual
Mama Told Me Not to Come
You Can Leave Your Hat On
If Only I Knew
I Wish You Would (Billy Boy Arnold song)
Kiss (Prince song)
Strange Things Happen Everyday (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.