Everything about Norah Jones as a performer is low-key.
Her voice: a deep, sultry contralto.
Her outfit: a navy blue shift dress.
And her entrance? The audience at the Riverside Theater didn't applaud her Monday night until she had already sat down at the piano; crossing the stage quickly, modestly and without announcement behind the rest of her band, no one seemed to even notice she was there until the spotlight pointed her out.
But as soon as she opened her mouth, there was no doubt about it: Norah Jones, nine-time Grammy winner, had taken the stage.
Jones gave a dazzling performance to a packed house that warmly received her efforts. She's been accused of being a frigid performer lacking a rapport with her audience. The truth is that she's focused, not stand-offish.
"You made me a little nervous there clapping during my solo – I don't know, there's something about clapping before the song ends," she giggled after the crowd applauded her performance of "The Nearness of You."
"But thank you, I liked it."
She opened the show with the understated "Cold Cold Heart" off her 2002 album "Come Away With Me." She moved onto "What Am I To You," a psychedelic tune made sublime by the performance of her keyboardist, Pete Reem (in fact, her whole backing band was fantastic and provided her songs with a beautiful depth).
And then came the usually-dreaded line in every career artist's concert: "We're going to play something off our new album." But the crowd was enthusiastic, and Jones didn't disappoint.
Her latest release and fifth studio album, "Little Broken Hearts" is a gritty lament for a love gone wrong. She and her band gave forceful, emotional performances of new songs like the title track "Little Broken Hearts." The crowd was particularly receptive of the languorous "She's 22."
Jones coughed often and drank from a water glass throughout the evening, apologizing to the crowd for a "frog in my throat." The throat irritation was not audible in her vocals, which were as strong as ever.
She showed her prowess on several different instruments, giving her signature piano performance during her funky break-up tune "Say Goodbye" and the commandingly mournful ballad "Miriam." But she was equally adept at the guitar, which she pulled out for a cover of the Grateful Dead's "It Must Have Been the Roses."
"My band taught me this Grateful Dead song," she told the crowd. "They play a lot of Grateful Dead songs on the bus, so there's bound to be some covers from that."
She was quiet and endearingly shy throughout the evening. At one point an admiring audience member cried out, "You're beautiful!" and she stopped strumming her guitar to reply, "Thank you, sir" in an accent that still bears a hint of her Texas childhood.
Jones closed the show with her trippy new song "Happy Pills" and a cover of Joan Baez's "Hickory Wind," accompanied by her opening act Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons.
For his part, Chisel – who is based in Wisconsin and has lived here for 22 years – was an able opener for Jones. An engaging performer, he was accompanied by longtime bandmate Adriel Denae, whose vocals gave an Ellie Goulding-esque etherealism to Chisel's rough-edged folk sound.
It's easy to see why Chisel, who recently released his latest album, "Old Believers," was named one of Rolling Stone's Best New Artists in 2009. He is a master manipulator of his acoustic guitar, from which he coaxes a mellow rhythm for songs like "Tennessee" and "Laura."
And the best part? He's a Packers fan.
"Do you know how hard it is to find a Green Bay Packers game in Portugal?" he asked the crowd, referring to the tour's recent stop in Lisbon. "And of course, it's the game we played the Seahawks. So that's great."
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.