Jonesing for local pop music 

It’s not unusual for Steffanos Xanthoudakis to be mistaken for a certain tuxedoed crooner known for singing the panties off women.

It started nearly 12 years ago with a pair of intense sideburns and an innocent comparison to Tom Jones.

With the idea of taking on the persona — if you can fit into the tightest of pants and get away with ruffled shirts, why not? — Xanthoudakis picked up Jones’ greatest hits compilation and asked “What’s New Pussycat?”

For Xanthoudakis and his partner-in-crime, piano man Dean Mermell, the tribute outfit Tom Jonesing — which plays next week in the San Francisco Winter Music Festival — sprang forth on a favorable case of mistaken identity.

“My mom was a big fan of [Jones],” says Xanthoudakis, a carpenter by trade. “I think there was something that resonated with me. If it had been a different name like Tony Bennett or Englebert, there would not have been that connection.”

Mermell — who goes by the stage name “The Tickler” — and Xanthoudakis — that’s “Tantric Tom,” to you ladies — kindled a friendship after meeting through Burning Man. When the opportunity to take Tom Jonesing to the stage arrived, they leaped.

“We actually really like [Tom Jones],” says Mermell, a filmmaker by day. “A lot of what cover bands do involves irony, this idea that what they’re creating is kitschy and more of an act. We actually really like the music that Tom Jones does and this is a good vehicle to play it.”

The latest reincarnation of Tom Jonesing — the act was once a 12-piece rock orchestra playing Bimbo’s and the Fillmore — appears at Thee Parkside on Monday as part of Winter Music Fest.


The weeklong event, opening Friday at Bottom of the Hill with RyKarda ParAsol, Dave Smallen, the Trophy Fire and the Action Design, features 43 bands, many local, rocking out as a precursor to the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, which gets under way Feb. 4.

While back-up singers and a boisterous horn section are gone now, Tom Jonesing’s big sound remains, thanks to Mermell’s crafty adjustments.

“The temptation is to go kitschy and become a lounge act, but we resist that and try to make arrangements of songs that still rock. The challenge is that there’s only one guy on piano, but we make it work,” he says.

At Thee Parkside, Mermell and Xanthoudakis will be accompanied by a bass player and drummer from Tom Jonesing days of yore.

Regardless of the size, there’s one constant to Tom Jonesing: “I still cannot believe that when we play ‘It’s Not Unusual’ how much the energy changes. No matter when we play it in our set that song alone wakes everyone up,” says Xanthoudakis. “[The audience] has some sort of bodily reaction to it. I guess it’s one of those songs that people automatically recognize and feel like they have to move to.”


IF YOU GO
S.F. Winter Music Festival

Where:
Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St.; Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St.; DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., San Francisco
When: Friday through Feb. 4
Tickets: $10 per show; $70 for pass
Contact: (415) 820-3907; www.sfindie.com.

Note: Tom Jonesing plays at 8 p.m. Monday at Thee Parkside on a bill with Duckmandu, Devil-Ettes and the Goldenhearts.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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