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Norah Jones took her Melbourne fans on a captivating journey through her discography

Norah Jones impressed an all-ages crowd at the Palais, though it was a wordless affair.

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James Hughes

It was a cosy and relaxed Friday at The Palais, where couples and families were flocking for a night of throwback pop-jazz at the hands of early-2000s romantic crooner, Norah Jones. Having released an album earlier that day, fans were buzzing to hear the new Begin Again tracks from the artist herself.

With little mucking about, Jones emerged from the wings alongside her bandmates – each respectively manning a piano, a drum kit, a double bass, and what looked like a lap steel guitar – and took her place behind the mic, starting up the band before the crowd had died down. Shimmering in a fully metallic outfit, she led the room into ‘My Heart Is Full’ using finger snaps before relocating to one of the stage’s two pianos.

Unsurprisingly, the overall sound was brilliant and the band – relatively tight – seemed to be enjoying the craft onstage. The true champion, though again unsurprisingly, was Jones’ vocal prowess. Known for her husky, bluesy, sounds-like-she-smokes-a-pack-a-day-but-actually-doesn’t-because-who-has-the-time-or-cash voice, Jones was blasé as she swept through each song with masterful restraint. Her range was displayed only on limited occasions, but when she let herself loose it made every single hair on your arms stick up.

The setlist wound beautifully through new tunes, old tunes (though ‘Come Away With Me’ was a notable absence), and a few covers. Jones pulled out an acoustic guitar to cover Tom Petty’s ‘Angel Dream (No. 2)’, which created a mesmeric atmosphere that left the audience silent for a beat before exploding into applause and cheers.

Despite the technical proficiency displayed, Jones played three songs before addressing the audience. This was initially endearing; it was as if her unassuming persona mirrored the quietly confident vibe of her oeuvre. However, Jones’ discomfort and subsequent lack of engagement with the crowd, though initially charming, became grinding. Jones’ only on-stage banter emerged from a quip about the number of Joshs in her band, and despite the audience’s surprised laughter it was the only joke of the night. Perhaps venues such as The Palais, though prestigious, aren’t ideal for sounds and atmospheres like Jones’? Maybe she’d shine brighter in a roomy jazz bar like Bennett Lane, or even Howler, where she can see the crowd and foster a more intimate vibe?

A very planned encore (is this a given now? Have we all just accepted that this is a thing?) gave rest for a short two minutes before Jones and her band returned, ready to bang out two more for the fans. ‘I’ve Got To See You Again’ and ‘Don’t Know Why’ seemed like fitting closure for the night; well known and a little upbeat, Jones definitely knew that she was saving the best for last.

Highlight: The few times Jones engaged with the crowd it was funny and charming – would have loved it to have happened more often.

Lowlight: To whichever lighting person was in charge of the strobe beams that shone from the back of the stage straight through the retinas of everyone on the floor (and probably accelerated my own ocular degeneration) – please stop using those lights. This happens every time I go to The Palais and I only have so many Medicare-covered optometrist appointments.

Crowd favourite: ‘Don’t Know Why’ garnered a collective “ooooo!” during the intro and a big ol’ cheer at the end.