Valley Performing Arts Center- California State University Northridge
Witnessing Diana Krall perform live is analogous to witnessing Fitzgerald read passages from This Side of Paradise (or so I’m told) — you are beholding one of the great practitioners of their craft perform with undaunted ability. In Krall’s case, tickling the ivories is easily as impressive and evocative as Fitzgerald’s passages, but is anyone splitting hairs here?
The singer-songwriter’s performance at the Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University Northridge was nothing short of phenomenal. A set with an abundance of elegance, beauty and sheer musical expertise, Krall is one of the few artists to knock your socks off with technicality while simultaneously charming the crowd with such indelible charisma you wished you were her husband, Mr. Elvis Costello.
The stage was set in Vaudevillian décor, replete with stained glass, constellation-inspired props and lamps dimmed so low one wasn’t quite sure whom they were sitting next to. A player piano belted out raggy tunes and jazz standards while Betty Boop cartoons played on the screen behind the set. It was the perfect atmosphere for Krall’s impending set — an era not so long ago had been dutifully recreated.
The show began with a mysterious and eerie video of a ghastly figure (Steve Buscemi) floating about an ethereal set, crooning and pantomiming to Krall’s “When The Curtain Comes Down”. Krall and band covertly entered, taking the helm for the latter half of the song and utterly mystifying the audience. This mystification was not misplaced, and boy, it was brilliant.
Such was the nature of Krall’s set — leaving the audience in a superb yet confounding state that was all the while brilliant. The tone of Krall’s set could instantly transform from the gleeful jaunt of “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth My Tears” to Tom Wait’s melancholy “Temptation”.
“Enjoy this one,” Krall would joke after a cheerier number. “The rest will make you miserable. It’s all downhill from here.”
Krall’s band exited after playing a handful of songs, leaving her alone on the player piano. Taking requests from a rowdy crowd, Krall pounded out “Peel Me A Grape”, “Glad Doll Rag”, and a Neil Young medley. Before she concluded her solo time on stage, Krall blazed through an amazing version of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” a la Fats Waller.
The quality of Krall’s band was immaculate, each of the five gentlemen unique doyens of their trade. Perhaps most impressive was the multi-instrumentalist Howard Coward, whose versatility with knew no bounds. The entire band behind Krall was exceptional, a perfect compliment to her boundless talent.
Krall’s set concluded with covers of The Band’s “Ophelia” and Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night”. Let it be said that Krall’s ability to cover a song is likened to someone wrapping an original work in a shroud of Zeigfield’s finest follies and antiquing it flawlessly. Krall departed by setting the needle on an ancient gramophone player on stage and letting the haunting tune it emitted ring throughout the venue.
If I hadn’t been in love when I had sat down, I surely was by the time I stood up. Krall isn’t just a professional, she’s a song and dance virtuoso and among the most alluring performers today.
Diana Krall Glad Rag World Tour@CSUN 04-04-14
The evening mood was set early on with a continuous backdrop of vintage films showing images ranging from and including Betty Boop , Dance Marathons, Dust Bowl Days, a suavely dancing George Raft and vintage Georges Melies while Krall and the band stomped off wondrously two steppers such as “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye” and “ Ain’t No Sweet Man.” Krall’s voice was earnest and earthy, and she strode just right on the piano during “Let it Rain” which felt right at home next to a honky tonking take of Tom Waits’”Temptation” as the band made the theatre feel like a vaudevillian stage.
On her own at the upright Player, Krall delivered cozy readings of material ranging from Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down” of the 30s to Baby Boomer material such as Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold” with both sounding like they were written by the same kindred spirits.
Back with the band, violins, ukuleles, Hammond B3s, bass and drums created moods both joyous as on “Sunny Side of the Street” as well as stark and melodramatic with “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with Krall’s patented inflections accenting just the right word and nuance. Her encores of Tom Waits’ “Heart of the Saturday Night,” The Band’s “Ophelia” and her own “Departure Bay” displayed that music, mood and messages are not limited by time and generation. This latest Pre-Swing band is a 100 year step in the right direction.
Coming April 26 is John Pizzarelli with Ramsey Lewis. Tickets are on sale for the 2014-15 season which includes Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus, Bill Frisell and Jane Monheit. Info at www.vallperformingartscenter.org.