It was a balmy evening in Santa Barbara last Tuesday night when Grammy-winning chanteuse Norah Jones took the stage at the Bowl. In town in support of her latest album, Little Broken Hearts, Jones opened with “Take It Back,” a song with a menacing message. The tune, like the new record it comes from, has a baleful bent; departing from her smooth-jazz tendencies, Jones experiments with rock riffs and dark lyrics to great success.
Her new material translated well to live performance — the swirl of electric guitar, hard-patter drumming, and solid bass went nicely with Jones’s steady, strong vocals. In addition to a slew of numbers from Hearts, Jones favored the capacity audience with past hits: She trotted out acoustic versions of “Creepin’ In,” “Sunrise,” and “Come Away with Me,” performed a solo piano arrangement with staccato phrasing of “Don’t Know Why,” and rendered a fantastic cover of the Grateful Dead’s country classic “It Must Have Been Roses.”
Despite the uptick in musical fervor, Jones is unflinchingly low-key; grungy guitar, driving drums, and sinister lyrics couldn’t phase her mellow vibe and beatific presence. It was a delightful contrast, the lovely singer in a sweet floral frock calmly crooning, “I’m gonna smile when I take your life,” during her murder ballad “Miriam.”
For more than a decade, Jones has purred in listeners’ ears; it was nice to finally hear her give a roar.