A small band of unassuming musicians led an all-out assault on the Spokane Opera House last Wednesday. Much like the quiet onslaught the leader of this group has made on the pop music industry, nobody saw it coming and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Norah Jones landed a wildly successful show in our quiet little haven; she sold out the Opera House in nothing flat, and that was before all the Grammy hoopla. So it was with great anticipation that I entered the show, waiting for something to pounce on and criticize. As much as I thought I wanted something to go after, it turns out the only thing worth bagging on were the multiple polo-shirt-clad "music lovers" in attendance.
The house was packed, and the din of anticipation hung heavy. Finally the lights went down and a tiny figure appeared from the side of the stage. "Hello, people," Jones said as the crowd roared. She introduced Richard Julian and made off as quietly as she had appeared, while Julian made an impression of his own. Taking on the Spokane crowd with just an acoustic guitar, his voice and a penchant for great songwriting, Julian won us over. His finger-picking was fantastic, and his showmanship exceptional. He wove his way through melancholy as well as humor and didn't miss a step. Though I heard whisperings of comparisons to Cat Stevens, Julian was all his own. After his short but memorable set, the lights came up and everybody went for the restroom or drinks.
When the lights next went down, the applause came up. As Jones entered the stage, the flashes went off. The Opera House gave an uproarious welcome to the daughter of East Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar. Jones was accompanied by a five-piece band but could have captivated the audience throughout the night all by herself. As she sang and stroked the keys of a giant grand piano, the mood of her music took hold. Her strikingly throaty but intensely smooth voice was perhaps even more impressive live than on recordings. She mesmerized the crowd for a good half-hour before the hoots and hollers started. More than a few times "Norah, I love you" made its way up to the stage.
The kudos can't all go to Jones, though. Her band of seasoned musicians backed her up flawlessly and even stole the show a few times. Drummer Andy Borger took off on a cooled-out drum solo that evoked massive applause. Another memorable moment was when madman solo guitarist Kevin Breit let loose -- on a mandolin. All of these parts came together perfectly to make the show a success. And with 9 million albums sold and eight Grammys to her credit, Norah Jones is well on her way.