Norah Jones, Richard Julian Bayou Music Center October 20, 2012
"Miriam/ That's such a pretty name/ I'm gonna say it when/ I make you cry."
Despite its name, Norah Jones' newest album, Little Broken Hearts, is a mild departure from her melancholy debut, Come Away With Me. That's the album whose single, "Don't Know Why," catapulted her into the hearts of hopeless romantics everywhere and won her a mess of Grammy Awards in 2003. Even the new album cover shows her in a different light, with a choppy bob's defiance to her first album's cascading curls.
In the same vein, Jones' performance at Bayou Music Center Saturday night was a mild departure from her usually moody, piano-driven concerts. Not to say that the folk-pop singer abandoned acoustics completely, but she added an element only devoted fans know that she is capable of: A stand-up performance, with electric guitar and piano strum-tinkling that transformed her Saturday set from what we expected -- a night of sad-sack songs -- into a pretty upbeat evening of music and comedy, starting with Jones' opener, Richard Julian.
If Jones is acoustics personified, Julian is acoustics purified. Armed with only a piano, a guitar and a single spotlight shining into his face, Julian commanded audience attention with a folksy triangulation of minor chords, jokes and anecdotal songs, mostly about him and his wife.
"Not Leaving New Orleans" was a funny story about his and the missus' two-year stay in Houston's Southern neighbor, while "You're Only Gonna Die" was a morbid yet realistic reinterpretation of the "YOLO" phenomenon currently traveling around the Web.
"It's the feel-good movie of the year," he said of the song, "and it's in a minor key, so I know you're going to love it."
"This song is dedicated to the wonderful people I met at the UPS office today," said Julian of "End of the Line," a non-rhyming piece that was more talk than anything else.
After an opening reprise of another song from her debut, "Cold, Cold Heart," Jones spent a good portion of the concert promoting Little Broken Hearts, a much mouthier effort than her previous collections. As for decoration, the stage was festooned with drop-down origami birds, which we admit was a bit confusing, seeing as how the album's theme revolves around hearts, but as the new and improved Jones evolves, so does her taste for experimentation.
Little Broken Hearts is as aggressive as Come Away With Me was passive, if you're bold enough to refer to Jones' music as passive-aggressive -- but why wouldn't you be? Much of her career has been a snapshot of her sitting at a piano, talking about what she couldn't, wouldn't or shouldn't do ("Don't know why I didn't come," she sang on her breakout hit), so it was nice to witness this newest effort.
As mild as Miss Jones may be, we dare to call her performance badass, as she oscillated from the schizophrenic "Happy Pills" to the murderous, catcalling "Miriam," a song that we still can't get out of our head.
Jones also paid homage to Hearts producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton on "Black," a song featured on he and collaborator Daniele Luppi's co-composed album, Rome. In contrast to Julian's one-man-band style, Jones was backed by a full set of musicians, including Pete Remm, who, on accompanying piano, jiggled keys for "What Am I to You?" a single from her Feels Like Home album.
Try as she did to push her latest collection of tunes, Jones' reputation has been made on one sound and one song, and that's what the audience came to see. Her voice, famous for being thick as gravy, doubled down into an even thicker roux when she sat down at the piano.
"The Nearness of You," another Come Away With Me stunner, prefaced what we were waiting for, and even the drunk chatterers quieted down when the first chords of "Don't Know Why" started to play. Jones, finally alone on a darkened stage worked magic, rewinding us all back to our own special day in 2002 when we first heard that haunting song.
Personal Bias: When you're a boy child, and a misfit, there are a lot of heavy metal bands at your disposal. But when you're a girl child, and a misfit, and a romantic, musicians like Norah Jones are the ones who get you through the halls of high school a little less worse for wear.
The Crowd: Jones is only 33 years old, so it was surprising to see so many middle-aged concert attendees.
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Overhead in the Crowd: "Come party with us, Norah!" yelled a fan from the crowd. "What would we do?" she responded, gasping. "Drink?"
Random Notebook Dump: By all means, sir, please arrive to the concert 30 minutes late and stand in front of me while you look around for your seat.