Greek Theatre – June 21, 2007
Norah Jones has been handling well two parallel challenges: being dismissed as just another pretty face and being dismissed as the offspring of a famous musician. She is joining in the success of Diana Krall and Natalie Cole (each of whom faced a challenge) with huge CD sales and rapt live audiences. At the Greek, Jones led her quartet through a warm set that was well-received by an audience already smitten with her honey sweet voice and uncomplicated jazz stylings.
Her debut album was released in 2002, was produced by the legendary Arif Mardin, shifted over 18 million units and garnered eight Grammy awards. Two years later saw the release of Feels Like Home (not the Randy Newman song, sadly) which understandably cut little new ground. But a year later Jones took a left turn as part of the Little Willies, releasing an album of quirky covers from Kristofferson, Willie and Hank. Safely back in familiar territory is this year’s Not Too Late, from which Jones drew heavily for her setlist.
The stage at the Greek was bedecked like a crimson velour boudoir, with nearly lurid red drapes, carpets and sound monitors. The girlish delivery by Jones is appealing to both sexes. Tracks from her debut disc included the title track “Come Away With Me,” the smash hit “Don’t Know Why” and a great rearrangement of Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart.” “Sunrise,” the lead song from the sophomore album, was especially nice.
Her so-called Handsome Band is comprised of longtime partner Lee Alexander (bass), Adam Levy (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Daru Oda. Rare was any vocal harmony from the band; very little could be added to improve her vocals. (Indeed, several years ago at the star-studded Gram Parsons tribute, Jones sweetened the sandpaper vocals of Keith Richards to close the show).
Jones and the band moved about from one instrument to another during the course of the evening at the Greek. The pace picked up when Jones moved from grand to electric piano, until she played a lullaby. “Don’t go to sleep. Please,” she implored. The energy was so languid, it was a legitimate concern. “Rosie’s Lullaby” from the latest album is one of the baker’s dozen songs from the new album, all written or co-written by Jones. She later apologized for the one ambitious song which stepped beyond her formula. "That was the creepy part of the show,” to which the audience dutifully chuckled.
But Jones again moved out over her skis with a left-leaning song about the recent election, effectively channelling Keith Emerson with hands on separate keyboards. Opener M Ward joined the band toward the end of the main set for a swampy “Green River,” which was followed by a judicious cover of Willie Nelson.
The audience was essentially silent between songs, until it was time for an encore 75 minutes into the show. She returned to the stage for her big hit “Don’t Know Why.” She then closed the show with the delightful Tom Waits song “The Long Way Home,” reaffirming her lounge setting in a classy way.