19 February 2016, Bangkok
I only know vaguely about Diana Krall: Canadian jazz pianist, blonde beauty, Julie London-type cool, married to Elvis Costello. I’ve heard scattered songs, such as her famous version of “The Look of Love”, and was never overly wowed. But with little else to do on a Friday night in Bangkok, this seemed as good a time as any to check her out for real. I chatted with a young Japanese fan who happened to be sitting next to me while the audience, untroubled by the scheduled 8pm official start, trickled in. The hall was more a convention center than a theater, with folding chairs simply set up in a vast room. Maybe because it wasn’t a typical performing space, the audiences snapped photos and took videos during the entire concert without a word from the ushers or Krall herself. I wonder if this is considered acceptable these days or if it’s just a Thai thing.
Krall was promoting a new album, “Wallflower”, which seemed from the song listing on the CD more pop than jazz oriented (the title number is by Bob Dylan). But the evening included plenty of standards: the first several numbers were Nat King Cole hits like “Deed I Do” and “Frim Fram Sauce” (the music piped in prior to the concert was all Cole recordings), and she threw in “Angel Eyes”, “How Deep Is the Ocean”, a swinging “Just You, Just Me” and others along the way. She seemed more interested in the songs musically than lyrically, aiming for unique takes on the melody rather than convincing interpretations. She slurs a lot of the words, and I suspect that someone unfamiliar with the lyrics wouldn’t understand a lot of this. Her phrasing is also off in many cases, making me wonder if she was listening to what she’s singing. Her voice is pleasant enough and her piano playing outstanding, so it was enjoyable. It just wasn’t transforming. This wasn’t Billie Holiday up there.
She fared better on the pop side, including “Desperado”, “California Dreaming”, “The Look of Love”, a surprising “Tangled Up in Blue” (my favorite of the night) and a lovely new Paul McCartney number called “If I Take You Home Tonight” (my second favorite) that I’d like to hear again. The only songs of the night I didn’t know were that last one, a Tom Waits number and the obscure Dylan piece “Wallflower”. She seems better to suited to those, maybe because in those cases I wasn’t comparing her in my mind (perhaps unfairly) to Sinatra or Ella.
She is charming but needs to work on her talk with the audience. She gave the impression of rambling in many cases. I would have thought that she’d have that part down solid by now. She started to explain one number, for instance, then trailed off as if she lost concentration and said, well, you’ll hear for yourself, launching quickly into the song. Since she presumably plays that same song at every concert, she should be smoother at this point.
She had a nice five-piece band backing her up, the songs were all pleasurable, and hearing this sort of music is always nice. I’m much happier here than at Madonna (who many of my friends were raving about just last week in both Bangkok and Tokyo). But I feel like I’ve got the idea now and don’t feel compelled to see her again at these prices. It does make me want to go back and listen to Julie London, who takes a similar approach but with a better balance of words and music.