Concert Reviews

Last Night: Norah Jones and Sarah Jaffe at Fair Park Music Hall

Norah Jones, Sarah Jaffe
Fair Park Music Hall
May 4, 2010

Better than:
trying to out at the Women's Museum across the park.

Playing up her hometown appeal--and, well, her sex appeal, too, looking quite adorable,  dressed in a short, tight, black and red dress--Dallas native Norah Jones stood on the Fair Park Music Hall stage, her five-piece band behind her.

From her perch at the front of the beautiful (but rarely used for this purpose) room, she shared stories of her childhood trips to this very building for opera shows, and charmed her audience with her soft, near-sultry vocals and her tender jazz and Americana takes.

Not that the audience needed much wooing. Rather, for much of last night's show, it seemed the audience was intent on wooing the performer. At show's start, the room was filled whistles and cat-calls. Jones, clearly enjoying the exchange was all too willing to banter (and, at one point, whistle) back. Clearly she was in her comfort zone--even if this display, she noted, wasn't necessarily what her longtime fans may have come to expect from her.

At one point, between songs, as she meddled with the guitar she used for much of the night, she acknowledged the change-in-direction offered up by her recently released effort, The Fall.

"I've got about three of my old piano teachers in here, watching me tune my guitar," she said with a laugh, before later shouting out her training grounds at the Dallas arts magnet high school, Booker T. Washington.

In many ways, that was the theme of the night. And while it's not quite Dylan Goes Electric, Jones playing guitar more often on stage last night than she did piano was a bit of a surprise. It's not that she's not proficient--Jones, an obvious talent on piano, has been able to transition to guitar quite well--but it's clear that, when she plays guitar, it's her voice that moves to the focal point rather than the strokes (or strums) of her fingers. Indeed: Her band's lead guitarist, Smokey Hormel carried much of the weight of the guitar-heavy new songs from The Fall. And while new songs "Chasing Pirates" and new single "Young Blood" delighted in much the same twee manor that they do on record, it was the songs Jones played on her piano--most notably, the dedicated-to-her-dog "Man of the Hour" and "Don't Know Why"--that drew the biggest reactions from crowd.

So, too, did other treats up her sleeve: At one point, Jones and backup singer Sasha Dobson covered Tom Waits "Long Way Home," and, when her band re-appeared after "Don't Know Why" for a brief encore, it did so acoustically, gathered jug-band style around the mic for a song before returning to its standard set-up for night-closer "Come Away With Me."

It wasn't, perhaps, the classic Jones affair some expected, but, for an artist like Jones, it showed reason for confidence in her decision to plug in.

Earlier in the night, another Dallas-born talent opened the show. Joined by guitarist Robert Gomez, area folk favorite Sarah Jaffe opened the show. The young performer looked somewhat timid on stage, but nonetheless won over the still-arriving crowd with her tender folk takes--especially with new song "Clementine," off her soon-to-be-released full-length debut, Suburban Nature.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Critically, there's little to complain about when it comes to Jones--except that, yes, her music tends to be a little more adult contemporary than is normally to be expected of a performer her age. On that level, I'm all for Jones' recent efforts to infuse her music with some added energy--even if, at this point, muted guitar is about as rowdy as it gets.

By The Way: Jaffe performed admirably, but two things rubbed me wrong about this performance. For starters, given the fact that Jaffe's band is made up completely of area musicians (many of whom were in attendance at this show), I think her set would've benefited greatly, and been more of an attention-grabber, if she'd performed with more of a band than just Gomez. Hardly a knock on Gomez and/or Jaffe: The two are a great pair, playing off each other perfectly. But this was a chance to really catch people by surprise; I'm sure, for some, this was accomplished, yet this seemed something of a missed opportunity. Another missed opportunity: Jaffe, who had merch for sale outside of the performance room, never pimped her new album. This show seemed primed to be the female version of Telegraph Canyon's opening slot for the Old 97s at Bass hall in Fort Worth last summer, but for the above reasons, this show seemed less a coming out party for Jaffe than the other show did for Telegraph Canyon.

Random Note: Yes, even at a Norah Jones show, someone will yell out a request for "Freebird." Give Jones credit for laughing it off, sighing and remarking to the crowd that, "There's always one, isn't there?"