If you are over forty years old or just enjoy aged wine and staying in on the weekends, chances are you were at the Santa Barbara Bowl on August 7th to catch the lovely Norah Jones in concert.
In 2002, Norah Jones released her debut album Come Away With Me, which quickly reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, mainly due to the popularity and marketability of the romantic singles “Don’t Know Why” and “Come Away With “Me.” Jones picked up five Grammy Awards for the album and, to date, has garnered nine Grammys in addition to being named Billboard’s top jazz artist of the decade (2000-2009).
The vocalist/pianist was raised in Texas and moved to New York City at a young age, a life paralleling her music’s characteristic blend of jazz, pop, folk, blues, and country sounds. After the astounding success of her first album, which is placed mainly in the jazz genre and features slow, piano-centric songs, Jones began to experiment with her sound. In her following albums, various types of guitar, drums, and bass are featured more, as well as background voices that add depth and character to her poetic lyrics and unique, sultry voice.
In her album released this year, Little Broken Hearts, Jones takes the biggest departure from her early work, adding rock and alternative to its blend of genres. Songs like “Say Goodbye” and “Happy Pills” heavily feature electric guitar and drums that mix perfectly with the slightly higher pitch and breathiness of Jones’ voice.
On Tuesday, August 7th, I finally got to see Norah Jones in concert. After parking five blocks away and climbing the massive hill and many flights of stairs, I had made it to the SB Bowl. As couples who could be my parents and
Saturday Sept 29th at 7pm grandparents poured into the stadium, I found my seat and settled in, just one minute before Norah Jones was to start playing. I sarcastically cracked to the guy next to me, “She’ll be on in one minute!” (knowing how delayed con- certs usually are). But in exactly sixty seconds, Norah put me in my place as she walked on stage and began playing immediately. It was amazing.
She started with new songs from Little Broken Hearts, which earned a few cheers, but not nearly the screams for “Don’t Know Why” later on. Because of her new music’s richness, Jones was accompanied by a fairly large (and talented) band of two guitar players, a drummer, and a pianist in addition to her own piano and vocals. The all- male musicians also sang back up, and seemed to change instruments or switch positions on stage after every song. Throughout the night, they played a large standing bass, organ, accordion, and multiple varieties of acoustic and electric guitars. Norah Jones kept up instrumental variety as well, starting at a standing keyboard on the left side of the stage, multiple guitars in the center, and a few solo songs with only her piano on the right.
The best part of the evening was the end of the show, when they walked off the stage to a standing and screaming crowd. But of course, it wasn’t over yet. The band came back on stage, this time all carrying their instruments, which included a snare drum, acoustic guitar, and accordion. They formed a semi-circle around Jones, who faced the audience and sang her popular bluesy single “Sunrise” into a standing vintage microphone. The next few songs had a definite country feel, especially “Creepin’ In,” which she had originally sung as a duet with the legendary Dolly Parton. In the final minutes, the audience clapped along and sang the “oohs” in joyful unison.
The only part of the evening that left me disappointed was the lack of commentary between songs. Personally, my favorite part of live concerts is interactivity between art- ists and the audience. Though I’m grateful to have heard Norah Jones play as much as she did, she barely said a few sentences to the crowd, talking only to introduce a song or giggle (though adorably) at screaming proclamations of love from the fans.
Seeing Norah Jones perform on that clear and warm August night might have been the best Tuesday of my life. Ten years after Jones released her first album, she showed the sold-out Santa Barbara crowd what it looks like to sustain a successful and fulfilling career. Through all the changes to her music over the years, Norah Jones remains one of the most humble, talented, and innovative musicians of our time.