"Do you guys like Hank Williams?" asked Norah Jones about half way through her sold-out show Tuesday at Red Butte Garden.
Well, yes we do, but we had no idea Jones liked him.
Then, sitting at a piano with her miniskirt the color of cantaloupe flesh, Jones launched into a self-lacerating rendition of Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," delivering the poison with her honey-sweet soprano.
On a starless light where the moon was obscured by the oppressive haze, the 33-year-old singer illustrated time and time again how far she has come as an artist in the 10 years since a lazy light jazz song called "Don't Know Why" catapulted her into Grammy history and worldwide commercial fame. She was the background music for a generation that didn't like jazz.
We never expected her to partner up with super-producer Danger Mouse in 2011 and then create an album like her most recent, "Little Broken Hearts." It is head, shoulders and torso above her previous work; it is Jones' "Blood on the Tracks," a thematic album that chronicles the bitterness and anger of a nasty break-up.
But even better than the narrative was the music cooked up with Danger Mouse, who came to fame first by mashing up Jay-Z's "Black Album" with The Beatles' "White Album." On "Little Broken Hearts," trip-hop electronica and ambient textures touched with reverb, distortion and echoey dissonance replaced Jones' piano-driven jazz.
That sound was replicated eerily Tuesday, with the short-haired Jones and her talented four-piece band creating darkness and subtle menace that unnerved anyone looking for a pleasant diversion from the infuriating construction downtown and an August dryness that parches the throats and ambition. The challenging yet rewarding music was reminiscent of Tom Waits' undefinable, idiosyncratic gifts she even covered Waits' "The Long Way Home" with songs and sounds that would feel at home in a David Lynch film.
Of course, Jones threw a few bones to the crowd, delivering an unremarkable version of "Don't Know Why" that featured only her voice and piano. But she challenged conventions by switching from piano, electric guitar and electric piano throughout the evening, with sparkling light fixtures that resembled fiery origami over her head. The guitar, rather than the keys, was the star instrument of the show who would have thought a Jones show would have had long guitar solos, as well as entire encore of acoustic country shuffles around one mic? The fluid set featured many different styles, but Jones' voice was the thread.
The sound at Red Butte Garden was once again superb, and it also showed off Jones' ascending vocal skills throughout the 90-minute set. Once, she was noted more for her delicate phrasing than any vocal power, but the new album allows her to dig deeply, bringing a soulful resonance that doesn't embarrass her, even when tackling a Hank Williams song.
When • Tuesday, Aug. 21
Where • Red Butte Garden, Salt Lake City
Bottom line • Norah Jones no longer a one-trick pony.