Norah Jones at Ravinia - July 8, 2003
“ Jones chuckled at a screamed 'I love you!' and replied, 'The question is, do you love your girlfriend?' ”
“Thanks for waiting in the rain, sticking it out – you guys rock !” Norah Jones said to a capacity crowd at the 2003 Ravinia Festival, before launching into her swaggering rendition of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” All day thunderstorms had drenched the grounds of the suburban-Chicago locale that hosts an annual summer music-showcase, but the lawn still was covered with picnic blankets and folding chairs for what emcee and WXRT disc-jockey Lynn Bremer said was the fastest-selling concert in the event’s nearly 100-year history.
Though raindrops pelted the audience throughout the show, not even heaven’s wrath could dampen their enthusiasm for the smoky voiced chanteuse’s performance, which drew mostly from the Grammy magnet’s 7-million-copies-sold debut, Come Away With Me. Jones’ sweet, cooing voice and Bill Evans-like piano were enough to warm the crowd’s hearts for the evening.
The next tune was “Turn Me On,” whose lyric “Like the desert waiting for the rain” couldn’t help but raise a chuckle, but whose slide-guitar solo evoked a distinctly Hawaiian, slack-key style that helped transport the crowd for a moment to a more pleasant clime. “Nightingale” followed, with guitarists Adam Levy and Kevin Breit propelling the song to a reverby, stratospheric height.
Jones gave “One Flight Down” a brisk run-through with electric-keyboard fills; “Feelin’ the Same Way” (which Jones was careful to note was penned by her bassist, Lee Alexander) came swiftly after, with Jones delivering some chiming piano complements. Next came a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Sleepless Nights,” complemented by Breit on mandolin and a background singer who was a perfect ringer for the star.
Jones then unveiled a couple new songs, a romantic tune with the chorus “The moon is in your eyes” and a moody, groovin’ number with a chorus of “baby, in the afternoon,” whose bridge summoned Led Zeppelin’s atmospheric “No Quarter.” A largely faithful version of “Come Away With Me” followed, though a lilting, surf-ballad guitar break gave a tantalizing hint of where the song’s destination might be.
“So who’s coming to see Aretha Franklin?” Jones asked the audience during a brief pause (Franklin was set to perform the next night). “You season ticket-holders in the Pavilion [premium seating] – you’re lucky! We’ll leave a note in the dressing room or something.” Jones does seem reverential of her heroes, featuring a “musically correct” repertoire of their work in her set list. Yet she seems to draw from their examples a genuine inspiration that she is able to channel into her uniquely appealing, mellow sound.
“What Am I To You?” a track from the Japanese-import version of her album, came next and was given a slightly grungy, distorted treatment on guitar. Afterward Jones gave the band a break and performed a solo rendition of Horace Silver’s “Peace.” That segued into “Painter Song,” which began with Jones playing rag-timey piano, then added Breit’s mandolin for a Django Reinhardt feel, followed by the rest of the band.
Guitarist and singer Richard Julian, who opened for Jones, joined the group for a runthrough of John Prine’s “That’s the Way That the World Goes ’Round,” an infectious folk-song in the manner of “Me and Bobby McGee” that had a few sets of hands clapping along. Next came the countrified “Lonestar” and “Creep On In,” an up-tempo bluegrass number, followed by the sultry, Latin-tinged “I’ve Got to See You Again” that fairly simmered through the speakers, with Levy’s possibly ebowed guitar adding an ominous, Duane Eddy-like flavor to the lover’s lament.
Jones honored her Texas homeboy Gram Parsons with a reverent cover of his gospel-rock chestnut “She.” Then, taking another pause and seeming more and more comfortable with her audience, Jones chuckled at a screamed “I love you!” and replied, “The question is, do you love your girlfriend?” before diving into her first single, “Don’t Know Why,” beautifully inflected by Breit’s mandolin playing.
To wrap up the set, the band played, of all things, a rendition of AC/DC’s Bon Scott-era “Ride On,” a slow-burn blues about the loneliness of life on the road for a rock ’n’ roll singer. The song jibed perfectly with Jones’ moody, bittersweet oeuvre, though the drumming seemed more plodding than propulsive for a song about keeping moving. Still, it provided a fun interlude within a stately venue that typically features symphonic concerts.