Photos by Rick Clifford
Norah Jones is one of those artists it seems impossible to speak ill of. If you came to Massey Hall last Friday prepared to do so, chances are you admitted defeat by the end of the first song.
Before Norah came Aloysius 3, a large portion of her backing band moonlighting as an instrumental jazz trio. Complete with bass, drums, keys, and a few special guests, this 70’s- inspired group brought a bit of funk. Showcasing organ solos and electric riffs, their sound felt dreamy and quite new wave. After a compact set of easy listening improv, these talented music men had fulfilled their spotlight satisfaction.
Norah’s entrance was as humble and composed as her demeanour for the rest of the show. She was poised, calm, and – by all accounts – severely cool. Unsurprisingly so, her set was simply a reflection of that.
Opening with “Day Breaks”, the title track from her latest album, Norah’s signature voice inspired an instantly engaged audience. Mostly silver-haired and entirely prepared to listen, this crowd could be seen mingling about the theatre during the pre-headline break, shaking hands and rubbing shoulders with friends old and new. The whole place felt church-like – and for some, it surely was. The opening number, both eery and heartbreaking, set the stage for a night of pure, uncompromising music.
On the scene since the start of the century, Norah Jones has been known around the world for her soulful voice. At first listen she is a classic alto, sultry and smooth, but in a flash she can throw you off with a piercing falsetto. In “Tragedy”, another tune from her most recent release, she did just that. Her octave jump for the final chorus collided with a roar of applause.
A highlight of the show was her rendition of “Nightingale”. Norah put a groovy, staccato spin on the classic from her debut album, introducing a completely new tone from that of the original. This live rendition turned “Nightingale” into a sort of anthemic rock song, driven by an ascending bass line and a killer guitar solo. While listening to her bandmates play, she got so consumed by the music that she almost missed her cue. When it comes to live gigs, it’s those types of creative diversions that make the ticket price worth every penny.
In Norah’s signature way, which is anything but flashy, her best known hits were quietly sorted into the set list, including the melancholy “Don’t Know Why”. At one point, the crowd’s subdued streak was broken by a superfan bro yelling, “Come Away With Me!”, to which Norah replied, without skipping a beat, “Tonight?!” Needless to say, the bro’s wish was granted by the time her unplugged, one mic encore came around.
From the grand to the standing keyboard, from plucky electric to acoustic, from a Neil Young cover to a Puss N Boots revival, Miss Jones left little to be missed at Massey Hall. After a career as prolific as hers, with a sound so uniquely her own, the show reminded us just how many kaleidoscopic sides there are to the incomparable Norah Jones.