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Concert Review - Norah Jones in Little Rock, June 7 2007

We saw Norah at Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock last night, and came away impressed.  She brought the cast of regulars with Adam Levy on guitar, Lee Alexander on Bass, Andy Borger on drums, and Daru Ota on nearly everything else.  She opened her set solo, singing a more West Texasish version of "Come Away With Me" while playing a red Fender Mustang through a Fender Princeton amp.  It was a statement of confidence in her ability to play guitar that she would start off that way, although the band did join in after the first verse.  She continued with "Those Sweet Words" another favorite of ours from her second album before launching into several songs from her new album with the occasional tune from her first two albums thrown into the mix.

Norah with Mustang

Many of the older songs have been altered like the aforementioned opener, which is a characteristic of many bands with jazz backgrounds. Underneath the pop pinnings and glamorous looks, she is really a player and has a great band to back her up.  "I've Got to See You Again" was even more jazz-centric and featured her spreading her improvisational wings on the keys. All the players impressed, but we were especially captivated by the versatility of Daru Ota. We had seen this same lineup in OKC in 2004, and at that time she mainly provided backing vocals and the occasional incidental percussion (at least as far as I remember it). This time she played bass (very well, mind) on several songs, as well as keyboards, flute, percussion and of course vocals. She reminded me of one of the multi-instrumentalists in Pat Metheny's band that has to cover all the additional instruments that the others can't. 

The band shined as usual with Lee Alexander holding the bottom line on electric and acoustic bass as well as several songs on guitar. Andy Borger was predictably good and added some variety to the mix with vibes and some other percussion. Adam Levy was usually his understated self but let go with some Scotty Moore-ish wailing on "Creepin In".  I wish he would do that more often, but I guess his style is primarily understatement. 

In all aspects Norah was even more polished, confident, and articulate than when we last saw her. And she was great then.  Her voice was full, pristine and mesmerizing during the whole show. She is more and more willing to stretch out and improvise the melodies as time passes without falling into the diva trap (vibrato, ridiculous scales up and down) so common with popular singers.  She was very competent on guitar and got a very pure fender tone out of her equipment. She shined on keys, mostly piano with a little Fender Rhodes thrown in.  During "Election Day" (the melancholy anti-dubya tune which got a lot of approval and laughter) they brought out a tiny little piano that set on top of her Yamaha, and she played a few lines on it while playing chords on the full size. It added a little sonic cheekiness as well as displaying her talents without showing off too much.

I should also mention that the production was spot on. Everything from the sound mix (with the exception of about 30 seconds of fender amp distortion/moodiness) to the lighting to the stage design was excellent. The stage design/lighting did a great job of conveying the moods of the songs. I recall one tune where they had the band in monochrome grayish spots and they doubled the same spot on Norah while she was also lit from a foot spot that was orange. It made her more three dimensional against the silhouettes of the band. These kinds of techniques were continuous throughout the show and really help set the mood. Concert production has really advanced in the time frame since I first started attending shows over twenty years ago.  I've especially been impressed by the shows of Norah, Sarah McLachlan, Rush and a few others over the last few years. It makes the ticket prices much more tolerable when you consider how complete a show you're getting.

With this tour, Norah has proven that she continues to grow in all aspects as well as adding new abilities to her repertoire.  The band is a very well oiled and polished machine that has benefited with such an extended period of time together. Definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of either Norah or adult contemporary with some jazz & country thrown in.