Norah Jones is an extremely gifted musician. I feel I should just get that out of the way before delving much further into her performance at the Fox Theatre last week. I should also disclose that while her particular brand of jazz/folk/country is not my particular cup of tea, I did appreciate that Jones more than delivered the musical goods during her stop in St. Louis.
I’ve been to many a concert in my day, and I must say upon entering the Fox it was immediately apparent that the crowd trended more to the type of people you would see at a symphony performance (i.e. very white, very upper-middle-class) than at a recital of “popular music.” The place was awash with Ralph Lauren and CK1.
Opening up the show was solo artist M. Ward who was about as bland as dry toast. He opened his set with two duets with Jones, who proudly bucked the main-attraction trend of never slumming with the opening act. This move caught so many people off guard that I’m willing to bet that over 75 percent of the audience didn’t even realize it was Jones on stage. Unfortunately, after she exited, we were left with Ward and his one-man, tortured-music-school-performer act. You got the impression that this was the guy no one wants to get cornered by at a party unless you want to hear him prattle on about free markets or why the Beatles were overrated.
Then came Jones and her backing band The Handsome Band. Decked out in a cute little sundress, Jones was, as always, strikingly beautiful, which raises an interesting question. If there was a woman with the exact musical talent and virtuosity as Jones, except wore a size-18 and had an overbite, would she enjoy the same acclaim? Considering you have to go all the way back to Mama Cass and Janis Joplin to find unattractive women with significant record sales, I’m going to say probably not.
Jones is the daughter of sitar enthusiast and George Harrison influence Ravi Shankar, a factoid that is, well, more weird than anything else.
Jones moved back and forth between guitar and piano during her low-key hour-and-a-half performance. Although it’s her voice that is her best instrument. For those of you unfamiliar with Jones’ music; imagine rock ‘n’ roll had never been invented and pop music was only allowed to be performed by Juilliard graduates. It’s very beautiful, it’s very peaceful, it’s very clinical and if you’re not paying attention, it will put you right to sleep.
This is the type of music that is best served playing softly in the background while reading a good book. But after a full sensory assault of auditory valium, I could only find myself longing for something with a 4/4 beat and a drum solo.
Jones herself was very warm and engaging with the audience, but much like her music, she lacked a certain spark. Even when performing her hit single “Don’t Know Why” at the beginning of the encore, it was delivered with a refined precision that is only demanded by piano teachers.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the best forms of creative expression don’t feel like they came from a classroom. Instead, it’s Eddie Van Halen banging on a guitar in his parent’s basement, or Jackson Pollock flinging paint in his barn, or Kurt Vonnegut cranking out short stories between used car sales.
Perhaps I’m being a little unfair to Jones, who I’m sure is just as passionate about her music as anyone else, but it just seems that the thrill is gone – or maybe it was never there to begin with. However, she has already enjoyed more success and renown in her young life than most musicians can hope to garner in an entire career, so it’s hard to argue with that.
There is certainly a deserved place in this world for the likes of Norah Jones, and I hope she continues topping those adult contemporary charts. But barring the need for a nap, I’ll take my music with a pulse, please.