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Live review: Norah Jones at the Orpheum Theatre

The singer emphasizes cuts from last year's moody gem, ‘The Fall,' in her Orpheum Theatre show, but the audience seemed mostly in the mood for her 2002 smash, ‘Don't Know Why.'

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It's hard to feel sorry for Norah Jones: At 31, she's already sold more records than most artists will over a lifetime, and despite her soccer-mom appeal, she's retained a kind of cool-musician cachet, collaborating in recent years with Bright Eyes, Beck and the Beastie Boys. In an unsteady music industry, hers is a success story with both commercial and creative dimensions.

Still, on Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre, where Jones played a sold-out date on her current U.S. tour, your heart went out to the singer a little bit when her promise to “go back in time” to her early work earned a more enthusiastic reaction than did the new songs that preceded it.

Jones opened the show with a long stretch of material from last year's “The Fall” — moody, groove-based tunes such as “Chasing Pirates” and “Even Though,” in which she projected a soulfulness and a devotion to rhythm largely absent from her first three albums. The audience at the Orpheum, though, seemed respectfully uninterested; these were fans waiting for “Don't Know Why,” the mellow 2002 smash that turned Jones into an instant brunch-jazz brand.

NORAH_JONES_LAT_2_2__  And who could blame them? Written by Jones' frequent partner Jesse Harris, “Don't Know Why” is a perfectly realized pop song, as sure of its aesthetic character as its narrator is unsure of the reason she failed to meet her lover. If most acts go their entire careers without approaching Jones' sales figures, it might be because they also go their entire careers without her sense of self.

In contrast, “The Fall” reflects an unexpected identity crisis; Jones made the disc following a breakup with her longtime boyfriend and bassist, Lee Alexander, and the songs ponder loss and reinvention over dreamily diffuse arrangements smeared with organ and electric guitar. Backed by a new band that included two L.A.-based session pros — guitarist Smokey Hormel and drummer Joey Waronker — Jones was more interested Friday in exploring that fresh indecision than she was in asserting her old self-assurance.

The results, particularly during that initial seven-song sequence, presented a convincingly lifelike portrait of Jones the young person, as opposed to Jones the precocious showbiz veteran. In “I Wouldn't Need You” and “Light as a Feather” (the latter cowritten with Ryan Adams), you got a sense of what it might be like to sit with Jones over beers in a bar, talking about guys and their inability to stop making mistakes.

Hormel and Waronker helped give older songs such as “Sunrise” and “Broken” some of the new album's appealing interiority. But for “Don't Know Why,” which came late in her 90-minute set, Jones limited her accompaniment to piano and harmony vocals from bassist Gus Seyffert and multi-instrumentalist Sasha Dobson. Unwilling to withhold what her audience had shown up to hear, Jones appeared determined at least to peel back its slick certitude.

She'd time-travel, sure, but she wouldn't make a big deal out of it.

-- Mikael Wood

Top photo: Norah Jones with Smokey Hormel. Credit for both: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (3)

A terse no-comment.

my impression, and this differs quite significantly from past Jones' albums and performances - the songs performed at the Orpheum off "The Fall" sounded much different live than on the EP... and by different i mean better.

ive seen Jones perform probably 5-6 times, including prior to her release of "Don't Know Why" and ive continued to believe that she is one of the few modern day performers that sound better live than recorded. that being said, while "The Fall" demonstrates a stylistic change for Jones versus previous albums, again, in my opinion the songs performed Saturday from her most recent album sounded much different live than on the CD... and better. going back and listening to "The Fall" after the show, i yearned for more the of the rhythm, funk and soul-full guitar that was very apparent at the show... the CD only teased and hinted at what was that night. comparing the memories from the show to the sounds on the CD, it almost seems like the recording was an attempt at treading lightly - making this style change with subtle movement rather than flashing it in full frontal at the listener... versus the performance, which i think showed a performer more comfortable with this evolution, and in essence pushing it further than what was previously recorded, with more of everything that the CD seemed to take so lightly.

i for one loved it, and my companion at the show on Saturday (who's seen Jones perform with me probably 3-4 times) noted she seemed much more sure of herself and comfortable... with a certain swagger and extroversion.

and i think, the reason the audience waited anxiously for the old, was because she held out for so long. as you noted, the "classics" didnt emerge until well near the end of the set and encore. if she had dabbed them in between and throughout, maybe that sense of urgency wouldnt have seemed so apparent. but really its only natural... an hour into a concert and the performer hasn't played their best selling and most popular song to date... the anticipation would be there for anyone, not just Jones.

in the end, my opinion was this. she's going to do what she wants to do, damned what everyone else wants. you want the first single ("Chasing Pirates"), OK, only im going to deliver it almost by happenstance and quicker than the album so you can't enjoy it. you want the classics? OK, but i won't deliver "Turn Me On" because i know you want to hear it so badly. but what i will do, is what i want, and that's Johnny Cash and a bunch of funk and soul so thick it drips while i deliver "I Wouldn't Need You"...

and you know what? she had me screaming for more...

bravo Norah, can't wait until the next time.

I like Norah Jones and I like her recent album as well, but it was stupid and ill-advised to open the show the way she did, seven songs straight. She needs to learn about audience attention spans and pacing.


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