Norah and Mavis: Legendary Ladies Marvelous in Western New York

Western New York’s summer got a little brighter as Norah Jones’ latest tour with Mavis Staples blew through CMAC in Canandaigua and ArtPark in Lewiston on July 5th and 6th, despite the rains pouring down Friday night in Canandaigua.

Gospel legend, civil rights icon and sole surviving and torch-bearing Staples Singer, Mavis Staples and her band of bass, drums, guitar and backup singers, took the stage first. She needed assistance walking to the front of the stage, and took some breaks with a seat and some sips of tea in between songs, but when the mic was in front of her, she was a ball of fire. The stage, and the entire venue, was in her control.

Norah Jones' latest tour with Mavis Staples

Her voice, gravelly and soulful, belted out affirmations of love, for oneself, others, and of course God. Like a preacher from the pulpit, in case you missed the message, she repeated it a couple more times in her banter.

The set mixed Staples classics like “I’m Just a Soldier,” and “Heavy Makes Too Happy,” with Gospel standards like “I Belong to the Band, Hallelujah!” and more contemporary rock hits like Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” and the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” Mavis molded these latter tunes to her will, secular messages becoming spiritual. “What’s the matter with him? He’s alright. How do you know? The Lord won’t mind.” hits a little different coming from mouth of Mavis Staples than it does from David Byrne.

Norah Jones' latest tour with Mavis Staples

As Mavis was helped back off stage after her 45 minutes, she and her band received a rare and well-deserved opening-set standing ovation. One performance from a legendary lady in the books, one more to come.

After a short break, Norah Jones took the stage with Brian Blade behind the drums and Josh Lattanzi on bass, opening their set with “What Am I To You” off Jones’ second album Feels Like Home. Then just minutes in, Mavis Staples came back out to perform “I’ll Be Gone” which she recorded with Jones in 2019. Certainly an early-set show highlight to be blessed with both iconic voices playing off each other. Pete Remm, who wrote the song, was also on board on organ for that and off and on for the remainder of the show.

Norah Jones' latest tour with Mavis Staples

With that out of the way, Jones’ invited the rest of her band out, Sasha Dobson on guitar and vocals and Sami Stevens on keys and vocals. They kicked into some material from her stellar new release, Visions, with “Paradise” and “Running” before dropping back to early hit “Sunrise.”

The set continued to span her entire catalog, each song it’s own gift. Perfect little moments of musical joy popped out here and there, each tied off in a colorful bow, like from the streamers hanging as a backdrop. A singular smile-inducing note to close “Running,” beautifully bowed bass in “Sunrise,” Blade’s infectious groove in “Staring at the Wall,” the three-part vocal round on “I’m Awake.” Attentive ears were rewarded with these plentiful gifts throughout the night.

Norah Jones' latest tour with Mavis Staples

As Staples could bend a songs meaning to her will, Jones could likewise bend entire genres to her will. On the hushed and haunting “Little Broken Hearts,” she took on an indie-rock persona, strapping on a guitar. Then on “Queen of the Sea” she was belting out a country ballad. Her classic “Come Away With Me” was stripped back to the trio, with spare upright bass notes and subtle drums, it was Jones at her jazziest, taking control with her piano and voice. But she isn’t a rocker, singer/songwriter, country crooner, jazz musician or pop star. She’s Norah Jones and there’s no one else sounding quite like her.

She waited until the encore for the lone cover of the night, Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home,” before closing out the night properly with her classic hit “Don’t Know Why,”

Note: Review from CMAC, all photos from ArtPark by Patrick Sone Lin Htoo.

CMAC Setlist: What I Am To You, I’ll Be Gone (with Mavis Staples), Running, Sunrise, Begin Again, Tragedy, I’m Awake, I Just Wanna Dance, Out on the Road, Little Broken Hearts, Queen of the Sea, Staring at the Wall, Come Away With Me, All This Time, Happy Pills, Carry On
E:ncore Long Way Home (Tom Waits), Don’t Know Why

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