If Sunday’s performance at the Bank of America Pavilion was anything to go by, Norah Jones is a performer driven by two impulses: an urge to do everything and a desire to remain as even-keeled as possible. There’s an inherent risk that those would conflict with one another, and Jones walked that line for most of the evening.
The singer was certainly eager to keep changing modes every few songs. With its icy keyboards atop warm, burbling bass, opener “Take It Back” established a moody tone that carried her until she switched instruments for “She’s 22.” The pluck and chop of her guitar sharpened the song’s subtle stab and signaled a shift toward darker, more accusatory material like “All a Dream.”
From there, Jones took brief two- or three-song turns toward country weepers, smooth pop, solo-piano supper-club jazz, minor-key adult contemporary, and bluegrass. She and her band had no problem adjusting to each new style and occasionally cross-pollinated, as in the playfully jazzy touch they gave Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart.”
But for all the versatility at her command, Jones assiduously avoided getting too worked up. Songs like “4 Broken Hearts” and “Miriam” swelled to choruses that were big without any particular impact. “Stuck” was especially illustrative of the problem: It seemed to want to hit harder than the others but was still muted, and rather than letting guitarist Jason Roberts ride out his fiery solo to the very end, Jones let it gradually dissipate and the song calmly returned to earth before it finished.
Still, even if she was loath to push too hard, a handful of songs managed to lift off the ground. The bluesy, swinging thump of “It's Gonna Be” was fueled by Pete Remm’s rousing Hammond B-3 organ, and the upright bass and cockeyed guitar gave the spook-house barrelhouse “Sinkin' Soon” some fire.
Better yet was the folky encore, where everyone huddled around a single microphone with acoustic instruments for “Sunrise” and “Creepin’ In.” It didn’t make for the best mix, but it was loose and free. It could be that Jones’s low-key demeanor is just a Trojan horse for darker impulses, but she might go further if she stopped holding back.
Opener Sasha Dobson’s borderline noir-country songs were crawling and laden with reverb, which was weirdly out of step with her chipper, almost goofy-apologetic between-song demeanor.