At Massey Hall in Toronto, on Friday
Is “whelmed” a verb?
Norah Jones neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed at Massey Hall, where she sang pretty as you please under gentle lighting and strings of origami birds, but never did take much flight. Her stylish adult-pop songs were elegant, succinct and often (when it came to her new material) dressed with a soft psychedelic shade.
And although her famous voice was supple and like velvet, her presentation lacked charisma, pizzazz or drama. “Come away with me,” she sang right before she left for the night. But the invitation didn’t quite take; her tour bus left without us.
The thing is, Jones, the daughter of sitarist Ravi Shankar and still memorable for the post-Grammy photo of her struggling with an armful of trophies in 2003, has come some way musically over the years.
Her latest album, Little Broken Hearts, produced and co-written by Brian (Danger Mouse) Burton, features material moodier and more hip than her previous material. Nine of that album’s dozen tracks were heard at Massey, and yet the edge of Jones on the record felt smoothed over on stage, where a hazy, mellow sort of groovy prevailed instead.
Arrangements were roomy; there was space and spotlight for the smoky contralto singer in heels and a tasteful summer dress who stood behind an electric piano for Good Morning, a soothing hello.
Elsewhere, in front of her tasteful four-piece, Jones used electric and acoustic guitars. On the dreamy Miriam, Jones took to an acoustic piano, at which she sat and sang darkly: “Miriam, that’s such a pretty name. I’m gonna say it when I make you cry.”
After the rhythmically upbeat single Happy Pills, she was back at the piano, solo, for The Nearness of You, a bluesy highlight written by Hoagy Carmichael and covered on Jones’s 2002’s breakthrough debut album. A sold-out audience, reserved for most of the night, liked what they heard.
A two song encore offered a variation: The group half-circled a single microphone, bluegrass style, for country-styled takes on a pair of hits. An accordion was involved, and Jones stood a couple of feet from the mic, resulting in her voice being only half-amplified and purely heard when she sweetly sang “ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh” on Sunrise.
Come Away With Me was languid, slight and feathery – quite beautiful, really. Jones crooned about wanting to walk with someone in fields of yellow, knee-high grass. And then she strode away, as did her audience in the opposite direction, the parting far too easy and mutual.
Norah Jones, who played the Montreal Jazz Festival on Saturday, plays Ottawa Bluesfest on Sunday.
Take It Back
All a Dream
It Must Have Been the Roses
Cold Cold Heart
Out on the Road
The Nearness of You
Don’t Know Why
What Am I To You
Little Broken Hearts
Come Away With Me