Show Review: Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson at The Fillmore, 4/21/10

by Dakin Hardwick on April 22, 2010

It's the Norah Jones Hoedown!

With this review, I hope to dispel a few stereotypes that people have about Ms Norah Jones. I feel that people have, rather inappropriately decided that she makes dull background music, and that she isn’t a very good live performer. I will agree that in her earlier days, she was a very shy performer. She rarely looked at the crowd, and usually hid behind her piano. I also feel that her debut record, Come Away With Me, the 2002 release that went on to sell 22 million records, is more of a mood piece than a work of active listening. But, in the 8 years since that release, Ms Jones has pushed her sound in many new and interesting directions, including a few very surprising collaborations and a really bizarre interpretation of punk rock.

So, how did her first show at The Fillmore since 2002 (opening for the great Willie Nelson) fare? Read on…

The show opened with a 45 minute set by Sasha Dobson, a Santa Cruz native that also plays guitar and percussion for Ms Jones. Her jazz-inflicted folk music was mellow and pleasant, and her smooth, rich voice was the perfect warm up for the evening. She was engaging and funny, and spent a lot of time calling out family members that drove up from her hometown to enjoy the set. Towards the end of her set, to complete the family bonding, she brought out her brother and a friend to play horns on a cover of “Mood Indigo,” which was beautiful. My only minor complaint about her set was that I felt her voice was too close to Norah Jones’, an issue that comes up again later in the show.

After a surprisingly speedy set change for the Fillmore (20 minutes, which is generally unheard of here), Ms Jones and band walked on stage and played a mellow reading of “I Wouldn’t Need You,” a track of her brilliant 2009 recordĀ The Fall. For this number, as well as the next song, “Tell Yer Mama,” it did, in fact, feel like the Norah Jones of 2002. She never looked at the crowd, didn’t say a word, and just awkwardly frowned while playing. The only difference at this point was her haircut, and the fact that she was playing guitar. I was actually worried at this point in the set.

By song three, I realized that I didn’t have anything else to worry about. She put down her guitar, and walked to an electric piano that was covered in various different guitar pedals. This instrument was used to help create the more aggressive, layered tones of much of the new record. When she got to play the “fun” songs, she also loosened up quite a bit, telling jokes, flirting with audience members, and so forth. She was having an actual good time, and had become an actual showperson.

To shake things up a bit, after spending about five songs on the electric piano, she moved over to the acoustic piano, but her energy level never died down. She kicked a whole new energy into her older material, and sounded spectacular. One of the mid set highlights included a banjo-driven reading of her politically charged/New Orleans jazz infused number “Sinkin’ Soon”. The humor and anger of the lyrics were driven really hard, and the song felt like it had been aching to get out all night.

She did a brief solo set, performing the laugh out loud “Man Of The Hour”, on which she managed to hit all of the punchlines like a veteran comic, even leaving room for laughter. She brought out Sasha Dobson to sing harmony on her breakthrough single, “Don’t Know Why”, and their voices were so similar that you could hardly tell that there was harmony going on.

The band came back, and she waxed nostalgic about her time on the road with Willie Nelson, and covered his song “What Do You Think Of Her Now”. The next song, a track called “Stuck”, gave the band some serious stretching out room. Her lead guitarist for this tour was Smokey Hormel, best known as Beck’s guitarist from the Odelay tour and Tom Waits’ guitarist during the Mule Variations era. Throughout most of the set he kept a low profile, but for this song he let out one of the most blistering solos ever seen on the Fillmore stage, and that stage has seen a lot of guitar solos.

The encore was another feat of brilliance. They brought out a vintage microphone for the whole band to sing around, and then did an old-timey version of “How Many Times”, complete with Hormel soloing by stepping in to the middle and holding his guitar up sideways. The staging was great and the performance was killer. They then did a guitar-driven version on “Come Away With Me”, which was only surprising that it didn’t sound very far removed from the original album version. This would have been a perfectly pleasant way to end the evening.

The lights went up, the usual Fillmore closing time music came on (Greensleeves), but nobody budged. The audience kept getting louder, and so loud that it actually distracted the people taking down the equipment. They stopped and looked at each other rather dumbfounded. The roadies were actually surprised by the crowd’s post show enthusiasm. After about 15 minutes of cheering, and the roadies continuing to not to their job, the band came back out, only to tell the crowd that they had nothing else prepared. Which felt like a lie, because they churned out one of the finest covers of Johnny Cash’s “Cry, Cry, Cry” that I have ever heard.

Here’s the complete setlist:

I Wouldn’t Need You

Tell Yer Mama

Light As A Feather

Chasing Pirates

Even Though

Young Blood

It’s Gonna Be

Long Way Home

Waiting

Sunrise

Sinkin’ Soon

Back To Manhattan

Strangers

Man Of The Hour

Don’t Know Why

What Do You Think Of Her Now

Stuck

Lonestar

Encore 1:

How Many Times

Come Away With Me

Encore 2:

Cry, Cry, Cry

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