CONCERT REVIEW: NORAH JONES AT THE RIVERSIDE THEATER (MILWAUKEE, WI)
Typically when an acclaimed artist is touring behind a fifth album, most fans attend the show, humor the new songs, and wait patiently for the prominent hits of years past. But what happens when that fifth album is Little Broken Hearts, and it just happens to be fantastic? Have longtime fans caught on to the present day gem?
Norah Jones brought her Little Broken Hearts tour to Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater Monday night and the near-capacity crowd appeared to be made up heavily of longtime fans. Many couples in their thirties, forties, and fifties were in attendance, and I strained to find some fifth album bandwagon fans like myself. As Jones played, a number of concertgoers would clap when she began a favorite of theirs, and you could get a pretty good sense of what people had come there hoping to to hear.
Very early in her set, Jones delved into a group of four continuous songs off of Little Broken Hearts. Prior to playing them, she announced the next songs were going to be off her new album. The crowd offered up some clapping, but by no means an energetic reception. Jones then strung together “Little Broken Hearts,” “She’s 22,” “Say Goodbye,” and “Take it Back.” “She’s 22” is one of my favorites off of the new album, and Jones delivered a simple, but mesmerizing rendition, standing front and center, gently strumming her guitar. It was the highlight of the first set of new songs, all of which seemed to lack crowd enthusiasm. And that seemed to affect the energy Jones brought to the songs.
From there Jones broke the set up a bit with the upbeat single off of 2009’s The Fall “Chasing Pirates,” and a cover of Grateful Dead’s “It Must Have Been the Roses,” stating her touring band were big fans of the Dead. Jones then went into “Black,” her groovy, rhythm beat offering to the Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi 2011 collaborative album Rome. Jones explained this was how she first met Danger Mouse who would then go on to produce Little Broken Hearts. “Black” was a fun tune that should have livened up the seated crowd, but it seemed most fans were holding in their reactions until they heard an early Norah Jones megahit.
When the band left the stage for a few songs, and Jones sat down at the piano, she finally got some well-deserved cheering. Jones showcased her piano playing talent on “Nearness of You.” Members of the crowd began applauding her during the gorgeous piano solo portion of the song, and Jones joked after that she was afraid it was going to throw her off, which of course it didn’t. “Don’t Know Why” received an arousing reception, and Jones rendition of the soothing, jazzy hit still sounded fresh after all these years.
“Miriam” is another Little Broken Hearts highlight and it was nice to see the crowd get more behind this one. The band had returned out on stage, and the group gave a soaring, borderline epic, rendition of the dark tale of unfaithfulness. Jones helmed the performance behind her piano, bringing to life the quiet intensity that drives the track.
“After the Fall” and bouncy, lead single “Happy Pills” solidly rounded out the songs of Little Broken Hearts for the night. Even though it was a healthy offering from the new album, I would have liked to have heard “4 Broken Hearts” or “Travelin’ On” as I feel they are two of the strongest on the record.
Towards the close of the night, “Stuck,” a late album, slow cooker off of The Fall, almost stole the show for me. Jones, back on guitar, flushed out the rock-driven tune with her full band, everyone hitting stride together. The band’s lead guitarist, Jason Roberts, shredded the track’s bridging guitar solo beautifully, making it a lively standout of the night.
Jones did not disappoint during the encore, rolling out acoustic versions of monster hits, “Sunrise” and “Come Away With Me.” After the first few chords of “Come Away With Me” a noticeable gasp could be heard from the crowd, illustrating the magic that the title song from her 2002 breakout album still encompasses.
Show openers, Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons, brought a simple, yet beautiful set to what was a homecoming crowd for Chisel. “I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 22 years and this is my very first time playing the Riverside Theater” he announced to the crowd early on in the night. The Riverside, with its beauty and large capacity, serves as sort of the cathedral of Milwaukee’s live music scene; I could understand the feat of playing there, even as an opening act. Chisel along with the sole, current “Wandering Son,” Adriel Denae lulled songs of yearning from their recent release Old Believers. Chisel stuck with the acoustic guitar and Denae dabbed behind the keyboard as the two came together in stripped, but impassioned performances of “I’ve Been Accused” and “Over Jordan,” as well as a cover of Tom Wait’s “Rosie.”
Even though I wish the Little Broken Hearts tour did have a few more Broken Hearts included on it, I do feel Jones played a well-rounded set that strived to make all of her increasing diverse fans happy. I definitely felt I was in the minority Monday night as a Norah Jones fan that didn’t start listening until the fourth and fifth album, but I know I’m not the only one. And then again, who is still making new fans with a fifth album? The same artist that makes you still gasp at a song you know is coming up next; the one and only, Norah Jones.