By THOR CHRISTENSEN
Published: 04 May 2013 02:53 PM
Updated: 04 May 2013 02:54 PM
Some critics have dismissed Diana Krall’s new album of early 20 century music as a trip to “nostalgiaville,” which totally misses the point. When you play old songs as well as she did Friday night, they’re as fresh as anything on the radio today.
The Canadian jazz singer-pianist consciously played up the old-timey vibe at Verizon Theatre. On the left of the stage was an antique upright piano. On right, an old Victrola record player, which she cranked up to signal the end of the concert.
Delightful black-and-white movies screened above the stage throughout the show, from clips of Groucho Marx to dancing flappers to sci-fi fantasy sequences by George Melies, the French film pioneer immortalized in the 2011 film Hugo. The movies heightened the ambience, but never overshadowed Krall and her excellent five-man band.
She used her latest CD, Glad Rag Doll, as a springboard into a deep pool of retro sounds, from the obscure gospel-blues “Let it Rain” to Ray Charles’ hit “Lonely Avenue,” which she turned into an electric funk-rock strut. She summed up the show as “American music from a long time ago,” but that wasn’t entirely accurate.
Many high points arrived in the European gypsy jazz style, with brilliant playing from violinist Stuart Duncan. Other standouts were newer tunes, like a suitably twangy cover of Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Wide River to Cross,” and lovely encores of The Band’s “Whispering Pines” and Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night” – the night’s second Waits cover, after a long, blistering “Temptation.”
As pleasing as Krall’s voice is, she rarely pushed it beyond soft-and-subtle: Even her yodel sounded sultry in Jimmie Rogers’ “Prairie Lullaby.” So it was refreshing to see Krall get downright edgy during “Temptation” and a few other tunes with help from her electric guitarist Aram Bajakian.
And while her banter was a bit too loose and awkward at times, she spiced up the show with charming stories about family and by taking requests for songs she barely knew, like Fats Wallers’ “Lulu’s Back in Town.”
She drew the line, however, when a fan yelled out for “Alison,” a song by her husband, Elvis Costello. “Right church,” she said, “but wrong pew.”
Thor Christensen is a Dallas-based writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org