Disconnect is the word to describe Norah Jones’ concert Sunday at the sold-out Orpheum Theatre.
There seemed to be a disconnect between Jones and her band, Jones and her crew and, most significantly, Jones and her audience.
The New Yorker with the distinctively dusky voice built a huge following in the early ‘00s with her latte jazz and later mixed in a little country (she grew up in Texas). But how many of her fans at the Orpheum were ready for her new sound?
The answer was obvious when Jones mentioned that she’d made her new album with producer Danger Mouse. About 20 people clapped. (He's a hip producer who has worked with Beck, Bright Eyes and Black Keys, among others, is a member of Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells.)
Jones, 33, was too hip for the room, which was filled mostly with people older than 40 who were among the 26 million who bought her 2002 debut,” Come Away with Me” The evening focused on material from this year’s “Little Broken Hearts,” the Danger Mouse-produced album that has yet to sell 500,000 copies. In fact, the first three songs of the concert were from the new album.
The new record is a departure, a heavily atmospheric sound built around vibes, spikey guitar snippets and instrumental washes. Moreover, the tone of Jones’ lyrics is a departure, as well. Take “Miriam,” a piano dirge that turns all creepy as the singer says she’ll smile when Miriam, who slept in the singer’s bed with her man, dies. Or try to swallow “Happy Pills,” which had a sweet, poppy sound but a bitter breakup message.
Nothing wrong with break-up songs but the tenor didn’t fit Jones’ usual melancholy persona. And the audience response to most of the “Little Broken Hearts” tunes was polite, at best.
Moreover, Jones and her new four-man band seemed an odd fit. Drummer Greg Wiz was distractingly bouncy and hyperactive with his body, not his drumming. Guitarist Jason Roberts, who was incredibly versatile, was occasionally distractingly loud with his moody fills.
After stints in Europe and on the West Coast, Jones had to chide the lighting operator about where to put the spotlight, and she stood too far away from the microphone on the acoustic, bluegrassy encore as all five players/singers stood around one mic.
Still, the encore was arguably the best part of the 90-minute performance if only because it was familiar music: Her 2004 radio favorite “Sunrise,” sweetened by Roberts’ dobro and Pete Reem’s accordion; a sprightly, clap-along “Creepin’ In,” and a dreamy “Come Away with Me,” her big hit, given a French bistro treatment.
There were some other familiar tunes, including covers of Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart,” Tom Waits’ “The Long Way Home,” the Grateful Dead’s “It Must Have Been the Rose” (given a killer country reading) and Gram Parson’s “Hickory Wind” (too predictable, with help from opening act, Iron Range-born, Wisconsin-based, Dylan-copping Cory Chisel).
Of course, Jones did her breakthrough hit “Don’t Know Why” on a spinet piano, with lots of jazzy chords. That came 55 minutes into the show and brought the shy singer-songwriter her first enthusiastic reception of the night.
Clearly, Jones is trying to move on, but will her fans follow her?
Photo by Associated Press/NYT