Very Impressive Show from Tommy James (review)

Tommy James and the Shondells – Ludlow Garage – 6/1/24

Do yourself a favor and go see this legendary artist

Let’s get this out of the way first – Tommy James has still got it.  That soaring voice on hits like “Mony Mony” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion”? It’s still very much intact.  And, his band flat out rocks.

In the annals of rock n’ roll, there may be no artist as underrated as Tommy James.  14 Top 40 hits, 2 of them #1’s, and over 100 million records sold.  Yet, he’s still criminally not in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  

James opened his set with his final hit – “Draggin’ the Line” from 1971, which he recorded without the Shondells, before leading a gorgeous rendition of his flower power staple, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”  This guy is 77 and still nailing the high-register vocals. 

More hits followed in rapid fashion – the stomper, “Sam I Am,” and the effervescent, “Gettin’ Together,” all in their original, short 45 rpm lengths. Other artists might be tempted to stretch these songs into jams – but James kept them brief, thus retaining their punch.

He took a break to talk about his fantastic autobiography, Me, the Mob & the Music, which is being turned into a Hollywood movie, before launching into a vastly-reworked, acoustic version of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which is the planned closer to the upcoming film.  The anthemic “Ball of Fire” segued into “Tighter and Tighter,” a song he wrote for Alive & Kicking.

Then came back-to-back number ones – “Crimson & Clover,” complete with the tremelo vocals, then the raucous “Hanky Panky.” Again, neither song overstayed their welcome.  He then revisited  “I Think We’re Alone Now,” this time doing the original arrangement, which definitely benefitted from the muscle of the band.  Even the lesser-known songs, like “Do Something To Me,” sounded fantastic in this setting.

“Mony Mony” was the one time the group stretched out, allowing James to jump into the audience and meet the fans.  He encored with the anti-war “Sweet Cherry Wine,” and another underrated gem, “Mirage,” before reprising “Mony Mony” at the close.

Most classic artists still on the road add cover songs to their show.  Heck, even the Rolling Stones are doing a Dylan song on their latest tour.  But, honestly I don’t go to a concert to have a band do other people’s hits.  James let his own body of work take the spotlight: 15 songs, and every single one was a smash.  

Tommy James is on the road all summer, and he’s got a killer band with him.  Seriously, this is a fantastic show you don’t want to miss.  —Tony Peters