After playing a driving version of Bing Crosby’s “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears,” with black-and-white video of 1940s dancers on the screen behind her and a full-fledged rock guitar solo, Diana Krall told the crowded Proctors theater Tuesday night, “I don’t know if they would have recognized that song.”
She can be certain they wouldn’t have. Her tunes were old all night, but there was nothing old about her sound or approach. Her crackerjack five-man band was contemporary and sophisticated, giving all of their songs — much of the night pulled from the ’20s and ’30s — a modern blues or rock feel, a feel that didn’t exist when these songs were created.
Those who came to hear the jazzy Krall with her traditional swing sound heard very little. Instead, we got mostly blues ballads and hard love songs that turned dark, often with a Vaudeville edge. There were no horns — only guitars and fiddles. She did play a traditional series of tunes alone at her piano without the band, highlighted by the wonderful “Glad Rag Doll,” the title song from her album last year.
Songs with the band were dense, articulate and short, around the three-minute range. She talked as much between each song, hitting topics about her childhood, her father’s records growing up and family times in her home in British Columbia.
She turned the 1928 tune “Let It Rain” into a modern soft-blues song, like a Norah Jones recording.
She jumped forward half a century to a Tom Waits tune, “Temptation,” the kind of song that chugs along with a thudding bass drum like a soundtrack to a ragged traveling carnival. Guitar and violin each took solos closer to hard rock than any notion of jazz. These were all good players.
The band then left for her to perform solo. She sang Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” She sure can hold a room still. Her chords were sparse, leaving her deep, sultry voice to fill the hall without effort. The softer the tone, the more impeccable the acoustic, turning Proctors into a small piano bar.
Alone on stage, she ran through a series of her ragtime swing, like “Peel Me a Grape,” and then jumped forward again with a Joni Mitchell tune. Then came her Fats Waller tune, “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” Here was the bouncy, jazzy Krall we expect. She pushed herself on the piano break, stopping for a second to curse before returning to the solo.
Then came “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” Krall digging into that familiar pocket of straight swing, where her strength will always lie. She followed with Nat Cole’s “Just You, Just Me.” And then she part-whispered through a sad “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
She sang an exquisite version of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” during the encore, the most intimate, and my favorite, moment of the night.
At 48, she acts very comfortable on stage. While the audience enjoyed her chatty, wise-guy style, it would have been nice to hear her talk more about some of the old artists she sings or why she chooses certain songs. Instead, we got banter about her first-grader twins (and not even anything about her husband, Elvis Costello).
Nevertheless, the music was classy and intelligent, the band occasionally intense and always on the mark. With all her years of success, she has yet to be lazy, each album exploring a new piece of the American traditions. Tuesday night, Krall’s singing and piano work indicated that she’s still looking to grow and has no intention to sit still.