The first time I saw Norah Jones live was March 2002 at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. Her debut album, Come Away with Me, had just been released and had yet to spiral into the Grammy-winning, sales behemoth that it would ultimately become. With a 1000-seat capacity, Variety Playhouse was the largest venue she had played to date, and her nerves were getting the best of her. Alone with the piano, the magnitude of the audience was a little too much for her fingers to process, but once she shoved her nerves to the backseat, she was absolutely flawless.
That night has gone down as one of the top ten concerts I’ve ever attended. Norah was boiled down to her essence. There were no distractions, nothing to cover up the mistakes. Her talent was on display, and it was blinding. So how do you top an evening like that? Curiously, for me, you don’t attend another Norah Jones show for ten years. I guess I wanted to preserve the sanctity of the evening, or perhaps it was failing to be bowled over by her subsequent album releases. All that changed with Little Broken Hearts.
Her latest album is an interesting evolution of Norah’s sound. With Little Broken Hearts, she brought in Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley) to produce a breakup album for the ages. This puppy is dark, at times disturbing, dripping with heartache, yet above all, beautiful. Its like she finally put all of the pieces together to see what life away from the piano bench was like.
Much to my delight, she brought Little Broken Hearts to the Fox Theater Saturday night. When I say she brought it, she basically played it cover-to-cover. I have to say if I were to release an record as accomplished as this one, I’d probably put the rest of the albums back in their dust jackets as well. In all, seven of the nineteen song set were drawn from the new album, and it essentially controlled the first half of the evening.
The stage was setup underneath a flock of origami birds, suspended from the rafters by strings of lights. Behind the band was a curtain of many colors that seemed to do its chameleon dance based on the mood of the track in play. As for Norah, she largely traded in her baby grand for a standing keyboard. She also manned the guitar for at least one third of the set.
The evening began, as does the album, with “Good Morning.” The sleepy track with its twilight haze seemed a good stepping stone for what was ahead. Her first departure from Little Broken Hearts came with The Fall‘s “Even Though” which eerily sounds like it could have made a home on her newest album.
Norah didn’t interact with the audience much. She introduced “Man of the Hour” as a song about her dog. Someone from the balcony yelled out “Marry Me” at one point to which she gave a quizzical look and said “I wish I understood what you said. The other night someone said something about a hot tub.” While it would be nice for her to have a VH1 Storytellers moment, letting the songs speak for themselves and leaving a little something for the imagination certainly comes with its own merits.
Ms. Jones’ back catalog came more into play during the back half of the set. The audience erupted as she started “Don’t Know Why.” I’d love to knock them for gushing over her biggest hit 10 years ago, but the song is still amazing. She can still give you chills with the song’s simplicity and unvarnished beauty. She did take on a few covers. She credited her new band with turning her onto the Dead, and they played a moving “It Must Have Been the Roses.” She also pulled out producer Danger Mouse’s tune, “Black.”
For the encore the full band gathered around a lone microphone perched at the front of the stage like some old barbershop quartet. They took on her duet with Dolly Parton, “Creppin’ In,” and a new song, “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart.” It was a nice way to close the evening.
Norah Jones is a special talent. Her voice is as crystal clear as it was at 23. It just slides effortlessly off her tongue. For those with tickets, as well as those still mulling over whether or not to see her on the Little Broken Hearts tour, the best advice I can give you is pop in the new disk and give it a few spins around the block. Kick your shoes off and get comfortable with the heartbreak. Its as fresh as she’s sounded in years, and performed live, it is every bit as tasty.
Norah Jones Setlist : Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA
June 23, 2012
Take It Back
Little Broken Hearts
All a Dream
It Must Have Been the Roses (Grateful Dead)
Black (Danger Mouse)
Man of the Hour
Don’t Know Why
Come Away with Me
How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart