Concert review: Norah Jones serenades Bay area audiences at the Straz Center in Tampa this past Wednesday, August 11

She opened with “What Am I to You,” played with a few beat variations and a slightly different arrangement from the album, proving her versatility and ability to rock it live. She played some electric guitar alongside her five bandmates, the vibrant purple, pink, blue and green lights saturating the stage, then growing dim after each song and leaving only the lamps illuminated. The lighting created an intimate vibe that really kept your attention fixed on Norah and matched the overall ambiance of the evening.

For Norah, the Straz Center was the perfect venue. I overheard a fan mention Norah liked the smaller venues and came alive when she got the chance to play them. Norah even commented, “It’s not Lilith Fair but it’s something, we got two chicks on stage, so…”

The band was indeed magnificent, charismatic and seemed to have a great time together on stage, connecting with one another with each and every beat. They performed songs from Norah’s entire catalog. “Light as a Feather,” “It’s Gonna Be” and “Chasing Pirates,” from her latest, 2009's The Fall, definitely a progression from her previous album, 2004's Not Too Late.

She then took us back with some of her earlier songs, like “Broken,” which she began, then stopped one line in, admitting, “I totally forgot the words! I think I have a ‘broken’ brain. I’m sorry, but it’s been awhile since we’ve done this one.” She then asked her band-mate, Sasha, to mouth the lyrics to her through the entire song and even argue proceeded to a bit about what line came next. Norah finally announced, “Okay, I’ve got it and if I don’t, I’ll fake it and you’ll never know!” The crowd was laughing right along with her, totally amused by the entire exchange and seeing the real, uninhibited Norah.

They covered Johnny Cash's “Cry, Cry, Cry” and definitely did Mr. Cash proud. She played a personal favorite of my own, “Lonestar,” she rocked the piano for “Back to Manhattan,” and then launched into “Sinkin’ Soon,” which was incredible live, the basslines and rhythms much more vivid and pronounced than on disc.

The band left the stage and Norah looked out into the audience and announced, “We’re alone…” Her next selection was about her dog, “Man of the Hour,” which is probably one of the most lyrically amusing songs she's written. The beauty of Norah Jones, besides her obvious physical adorableness, is that she grows with each album. Come Away With Me was simple, succinct and left a lasting impression on us all. Feels Like Home was a progression in beats, lyrics and the use of her voice, where as Not Too Late had her venturing into a few more bluesy, folksy and classic-sounding territories that broadened her fanbase even more. The Fall is definitely the closest to pop she’s ever gotten, but she still has that signature Norah Jones sound complete with plenty of catchy songs that stay stuck your head.

She closed the evening with “Don’t Know Why,” and the title track off her first album, “Come Away With Me.” The crowd cheered her back onto the stage after a vintage microphone was brought out and set up. Her band returned with a stand up bass, steel guitar and a banjo, crowded around the mic, and like a scene out of O’ Brother Where Art Thou, kicked it old school and indulged the fans with an encore of “Sunrise” and “Creepin’ In.”

From a lovely disembodied voice on a CD sent to me in a care-package, to a flesh-and-blood goddess sereneding me from the stage at the Straz Center, Norah came a long way in my life and earned her place in it. Her performance Wednesday night was unforgettable, to say the least, and only cemented my love of her music.

I first discovered Norah Jones when my aunt sent me a care package filled with new clothes, accessories and the singer-songwriter's first album, Come Away with Me. I instantly fell in love with her velvety voice, her heartfelt lyrics, and generally everything about her and her music. I arrived at Wednesday night's show confident that seeing her live would be an event to remember.

The Carol Morsani Hall stage at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts' was packed with instruments that were set amidst a comfortable living room-style setting with decorative lamps and a backdrop of iridescent white draperies. Elvis Perkins opened the show on guitar and harmonica. His phrasing and staggered-singing style made his set seem to drone on and on, and though he had a nice enough voice, his songs were as dry and flat as the personality he revealed in between each tune. He certainly had some potential, but songs like “Doomsday” and “Stay Zombie, Stay,” aren’t exactly ones I could see myself singing over and over. Regardless, his performance certainly heightened my anticipation to see Ms. Jones.

Norah and her “Magnificent Band,” as Perkins called them, took the stage dressed in style and ready to blow us away, Norah sporting short chic hair, a striking red dress, mini-vest, and heels. Norah’s presence was hypnotic and when she sang in that sultry, Grammy-winning voice, she made it seem effortless, like she didn’t even have to try to sound so perfect.

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