I swear Norah Joneshas been around longer than a decade. Maybe that’s because her voice sounds like it comes from another era. She’s thirty-three, but is an old soul, many say. There’s no doubt about it, she’s got the voice, and she’s got the looks. I actually recall declaring her once as my future ex-wife. Not her most glaring accomplishment, but impressive nonetheless. It’s taken some time, but she also has a presence on stage that’s very comfortable, charming, and down to earth – all of which were exhibited last Friday night when I saw her perform live for the first time – “Is that really Norah Jones up there…twenty-five feet away?”
“I don’t know why I didn’t come,” Norah Jones sang, understandably causing a fan to belt out a, “Hey-oooo!” – at the thought of… Jones stopped the song to say, “I know what you think it means.” That was Jones showcasing her sense of humor that she used throughout Friday night’s show at The Bell House in Park Slope, Brooklyn – “I live here too,” she said. This was one of her interactions with the crowd that was not seen in her earlier and much more bashful days.
Norah Jones is now on tour upon the release of her fifth solo studio album, Little Broken Hearts, produced by Danger Mouse (who?). A star since the early 2000s, it is a rarity to see her live for only thirty-five bucks a ticket, and in a modest sized venue such as The Bell House. If you were quick enough to jump on your computer last Tuesday at noon to purchase tickets during your lunch break, or simply chose to ignore job duties for a moment, then you could have been a part of the sold out crowd.
Jones performed mostly songs from the new album, but also mixed in some older and more familiar songs like Don’t Know Why, which includes the lyric above, and was the single from her debut album Come Away With Me (2002) that garnered her five Grammy Awards. She now has a total of nine Grammy Awards, and is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Little Broken Hearts was released May 1, and now is positioned at #2 on Billboard’s 200 Chart (Billboard.com).
Many critics say this album is a departure from Jones’ previous albums. Sonically, she has shifted, much to do with her not pinned behind her piano like earlier in her career. She’s playing some guitar these days, which you could tell at the show she isn’t 100% comfortable with yet, as she kept looking at her fingerers. It’s still nice to see her try something new though. Then comes the Danger Mouse effect. His influence is definitely heard. He has a producer’s touch that makes songs catchy, yet they are not pop songs. Another example of this is his work on The Black Keys’ latest, El Camino.
Jones’ lyrics have also become more personal, and Little Broken Hearts has been declared her break up album. On track 11, Miriam, Jones sings, “You know you done me wrong/ I’m gonna smile when you say goodbye/ Now I’m not the jealous type/ Never been the killing kind/ But you know what you did/ So don’t put up a fight.” And, on track 2, Say Goodbye, she sings, “Well, it ain’t easy to stay in love/ If you can’t tell lies/ So I’ll just have to take a bow/ And say goodbye.” You can sense a wise-ass, sarcastic tone in these lyrics, and others throughout the album. Yet, there is some venom in the words. Love hurts, right? But, can make for good music too, and Jones has made another good album.
When fans heard Norah Jones was teaming up with Danger Mouse, they rightfully became excited. It’s possible they were hoping for that departure. This leads us back to Jones’ voice, and the fact that this wasn’t much a departure at all. On all her albums, including Little Broken Hearts, her voice never wavers. Her voice is great, and I heard my real future wife say, “She sounds even better in person.” This may be true, but wouldn’t many of you like to hear her belt a few notes out? Maybe even yell once? Nobody is saying Jones should be making music for her fans. A better way to see it might be that her fans feel like her best work has yet to come.
Jones was hardly a disappointment though. It’s apparent she’s a professional, and gives performing her all. There were a few humanizing moments too, and they made you like her even more. She began a few songs, and stopped, “Why do I keep messing up the words.” Then jumped right back into performing.
We established Jones’ voice comes from another time; and possibly a simpler time when cell phones didn’t block the view of the stage. That was the disappointment of the night. There’s a hesitation in calling much of the crowd fans because too many paid more attention to the Internet (everything not happening in their lives) than to the artist on stage. A concert, or a night out in New York City, is supposed to be an experience; however, it must be difficult to remember something when you aren’t fully engaged. Snapping a few pictures is fine, and video too, but there has to be something wrong with checking your Facebook during a concert. That’s my future ex-wife up there; give her some respect!
Respect is the word. At a Norah Jones’ concert you will see generations. There were people in their seventies (maybe older; I didn’t check IDs; well, I did, but was asked to stop), to some underage teenagers, and every other decade in-between. You don’t accumulate that wide range of a fan base without being respected. That is why everyone should experience seeing her live, whether or not the tickets are just thirty-five bucks.
Seeing her at The Bell House is something to remember. The encore came, and Jones’ band joined her upfront around the microphone to sing two last songs. The band consisted of: Josh Lattanzi (bass), Pete Remm (keyboards), Jason Roberts (guitar) and Greg Wieczorek (drums). You can catch them with Norah next time in New York City on Tuesday, July 3 at Central Park Summerstage.