I was able to catch Norah Jones on Friday on the tail end of her summer tour for Little Broken Hearts, her latest record (May 2012). The album takes yet another turn against what you might have expected from Jones, being produced by Danger Mouse, and containing cynical dark but cartoon-like imagery. The album had been critically acclaimed, but apparently it’s not much of a fan favorite.
It was my first time seeing her perform live, although I’ve seen many recordings throughout the years. She’s clearly brilliant, has amazing control over her voice and has been more than well received over the last 10 years. Her career has been so successful that it’s put her in a place, as a 33-year-old musician, where people act as if she’s playing revival tours even though she’s nowhere near done exploring and developing her style. It’s the way people act at a Bob Dylan or Tom Petty concert; everyone is nostalgic, and it’s more about the audience and their personal attachment to particular songs than it is watching a creative artist showcase their work. This is something that’s kind of inevitable, but I still hate it.
Jones’ commentary between songs was a clear reaction to this, too. She was genuinely grateful for a (in my opinion) modest applause after announcing she had just played a single off of Little Broken Hearts and she commented on how the support meant a lot to her. It was meager, less than a quarter of the audience clapped or made any noise for the new album, so her appreciation tells me she’s seen a lot worse. She said, “Normally I say that and I just hear crickets, and I’m like ‘Hello!?’” This sentiment continued throughout the entire set, where the crowd would sit back and talk until they heard the beginning of “Don’t Know Why” or “Come Away With Me.”
Maybe this is a natural process for an artist and I just haven’t been alive long enough to follow it for this long. Did people go to Michael Jackson’s concerts on the Thriller tour and beg for "ABC"? Will people be cringing at an Adele concert in 10 years if she experiments with a looper pedal? I suppose a lot of pop artists have the benefit of dropping a band name and going solo which eases the pressure of having to "play all the hits." No one expects Jack White to play all of Elephant live. Why would they expect Norah Jones to play all of Come Away with Me? It’s an amazing record. It was at the top of the charts for a reason, but if you want to hear the record, listen to the record. She has a new band, four other albums, and about 10 side projects going on. Show some respect, people.
Jones and her multi-instrumentalist band are all very well seasoned performers, and still able to be present, responsive, and even at some times distracted by the audience which always enhances the experience at larger shows. Throughout the set, Jones and her band were all switching positions and instruments. She started on electric guitar, and floated around between that, a Rhodes, and a vintage upright piano. And when the time came, her band never failed to fill in with perfectly spot on backups and harmonies while never missing a beat.
For the encore, the band walked back out with stand-up bass, acoustic and steel guitars, a single tom, an accordion, and gathered around an area mic right at the forefront of the stage. At this point the seated grannies in the audience who were confident enough dragged their drunken husbands up to the front for slow dancing and getting "really wild" to two songs from Feels Like Home, Jones’ bluegrass inspired sophomore full length.
The band couldn’t help but laugh at the man standing next to me front and center. He was a lanky 50-something year old with an X drawn on each hand (he had been cut off at the bar) waved his arms, shouting things like “Now this is fuckin’ music!” and “That’s right! That’s how you fuckin’ do it. Yeah! That’s right!” during their encore. He was loud enough that his voice and the laughter of those around him were actually being picked up and amplified from the area mic they had in the center of the band on stage. Jones and her band giggle through their last two songs and I think it was probably refreshing for them to get some kind of energy from the previously docile and heat-stricken, mature adult crowd.
Overall, this reaffirmed my appreciation for Norah Jones as a multi-talented, brilliant, good-spirited musician who deserves all of the acclaim and awards. Although, I think at this point she could maybe afford (if not contractually obligated otherwise) to put out her next record under a band name, and play smaller shows for less people, less pressure, and more fun.