Maybe the worst thing that can happen to a music fan is to go to a concert of a favorite performer and be disappointed. The show was too short, the sound was muddy and off-balanced, the musicians just went through the motions, churning out tired versions of tunes they have played over and over on the road.
That was not the case Sunday night at Walk Festival Hall, where Norah Jones played a concise but flawless set.
Jones opened with some new songs, numbers off “Begin Again,” that proved that she has not only retained all the talents that made her first albums so fine — her everything-in-its-place piano playing, her intimate whisper that makes you believe she’s singing just to you, the smoothie of jazz, country, rock, blues and gospel that adds up to an undefinable genre — but also that she continues to develop as an artist. Her voice remains distinctive, expressive and nuanced. And she really showed off her chops on the piano. No doubt the set was well rehearsed and the songs have been performed hundreds of times, but everyone seemed to play with freedom, and familiar songs were just different enough to sound spontaneous and fresh.
Norah blessed us with favorites like “I’ve Got to See You Again,” “Come Away With Me,” “Sunrise,” “Don’t Know Why” and other classics from her first two phenomenal albums (including her cover of Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home,” which is still looping through my brain). But she also broke out songs from less-hyped parts of her still-growing discography that will have me going back to explore “Not Too Late,” “The Fall,” “Little Broken Hearts” and “Day Breaks,” albums that initially confounded my expectations but that, having heard them afresh, have me eager to explore what I missed the first time around.
Exquisite is the word that keeps coming back to mind: Jones’ voice, her piano playing and the strong but subtle work of her backup musicians. The sound in Walk Hall was extraordinary — better than any other amplified performance there that I can recall — with all voices blended and balanced for optimal power and sensitivity. Norah kept the set cruising and the show wasn’t long, maybe 75 minutes. It took some persistence to get a couple encores out of the gang, but when they did come back out they gave us two short unplugged numbers, Norah and two members of her band harmonizing around one mike like an old-time country trio, the other at the piano, carefully picking out often unusual and unexpected chords on the Steinway.
Like every great performer, she left us plenty full, but wanting more.