EmptyTheater at Madison Square Garden
Wednesday, April 18
Thanks in part to her first-rate Handsome Band and some intriguing stylistic excursions, Norah Jones delivered a first-rate concert that demonstrated a newfound liveliness. In the course of a 90-minute set that included her trademark hits, several well-chosen covers and a generous portion of her current album "Not Too Late," the singer-songwriter proved that her derogatory nickname "Snorah" Jones no longer applies.
Performing on piano, keyboards and guitar, Jones gave even her quietest tunes enough of a kick to infuse them with a new vitality. Her gorgeous voice is her biggest asset, of course, but her top-notch accompanists provided invaluable enhancement. Guitarist Adam Levy's ever-surprising licks, Lee Alexander's sinewy bass playing, Andy Borger's sturdy drumming and Daru Oda's vocal and multi-instrumental support gave the music complex rhythmic qualities not often present on the recordings.
Jones was in a clearly jovial mood, bantering with the fans on several occasions and even being playfully flirtatious.
The show marked the singer's first major NYC gig in nearly four years, so she was sure to deliver her biggest hits "Come Away With Me" and "Don't Know Why." But it was the less-familiar titles that provided the highlights: "Thinking About You," for which she beautifully harmonized with Oda; a swinging "Sinkin' Soon," for which a guest trombonist provided endlessly entertaining squawks; the politically themed "My Dear Country," in which she duetted with herself on a toy piano; and a soulful cover of the Dixie Cups' "I'm Gonna Get You Yet."
Jones' recent forays into jazz and country have influenced her work for the better, as evidenced by her slinky rendition of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart" and a deeply affecting version of Willie Nelson's "Hands on the Wheel."
She generously shared the stage with show opener M. Ward, performing one number with the singer-songwriter during his short but powerful (if not quite big enough for the room) opening set and later inviting him to join her on songs including "Creepin' In."