For people who haven’t spent much time with the music of Diana Krall–and I am among them–the piano-playing jazz chanteuse seems like a rather adult, mellow musical confection designed primarily for easy-listening audiences rather than serious music geeks.
The Canadian songstress’s show at Red Butte Garden Wednesday night proved that notion wrong on several counts. For one, rather than sticking to poppy standards, Krall led her band through serious jazz instrumental excursions throughout the show, starting with the very first song. For another, Krall interspersed songs by the likes of Tom Waits and Bob Dylan among her tributes to long-time Krall fave Irving Berlin, inspiration for her 1996 tribute album, All For You.
And rather than coming off as a slick pop songstress merely dressing up her pop songs in the accoutrements of jazz, Krall appeared a little unhinged at times. She wore sunglasses throughout the show, and her between-song banter was pleasingly off-the-cuff and odd.
When one audience member screamed “I love you!” early in the show, Krall responded quickly, “Thank you! I’m very difficult. Should we just do some group therapy for a while?” She followed that up by saying, “It’s nice to play a place where you don’t hear the bottles rolling down the aisles.”
Leading a small group that included a bassist, guitarist and drummer–all ace players–Krall would settle down when she was playing music, whether crooning a tune in that husky voice that makes even the darkest of ballads go down smooth, or picking at her piano keys with underappreciated skill.
There were several highlights during the show, starting with “So Nice” early in the show. The Tom Waits songs were great surprises; “Clap Hands” was a brilliant version, nestled between Irving Berlin tunes. And Krall’s version of “Jockey Full of Bourbon” was excellent as well.
Toward show’s end, Krall’s band sat to the side while she delivered a solo, piano-driven take of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” and it was around that time I found myself fully engaged with Krall’s show for the first time. The somewhat off-kilter stage presence and long jams gave way to an artist simply singing and playing what must be one of her favorite songs.
It was a stirring performance, and a credit to both the performer and the songwriter.
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.