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Originally published August 19, 2012 at 3:19 PM | Page modified August 19, 2012 at 3:19 PM

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Norah Jones rocked hard at Marymoor but still sounded the same

Norah Jones performed Saturday night at Marymoor Park, in Redmond. Though she and her band are playing harder-edged, more rock-influenced material these days, Jones' mild persona is still the same, writes a Seattle Times music critic.

Seattle Times music critic

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Norah Jones has been pouring kerosene lately over her notoriously tepid persona — to wit, grinding electric guitar and atmospheric synthesizer, trenchantly nasty lyrics and, on Saturday night at Marymoor Park, a high-hemmed, spittin'-red dress and cowboy boots.

But she hasn't changed that much, really.

Granted, she talked more Saturday than she used to, and smiled a lot, too, making eye contact with the sold-out crowd and joking at one point that she was a "diva" for asking the stage manager to turn off the fan for the smoke machine.

She played a lot of instruments, too — relaying between acoustic and electric guitars and pianos during her 90-minute show. But for all the noise generated by her crackerjack backup band on the rock numbers from the new album "... Little Broken Hearts" — good for her, trying something new — Jones was still mild as milk.

Standing at the mike playing electric guitar, Jones kicked off with a cursory "Come Away With Me," perhaps just to get that early hit out of the way, then dealt from the new deck. The 20- to 50-something crowd — with noticeably fewer mom-and-daughter pairs than in the past — responded politely if not enthusiastically, rarely showing much familiarity with the new songs.

The harder-edged material of Jones' last two albums worked best when there was a solid rhythmic hook: the "thump! thump! thump!" of "Say Goodbye," the six-note figure of "Chasing Pirates," the hard, eighth-note drive of "Happy Pills."

But on "Take It Back" and "It's Gonna Be," the slight-voiced Jones, by no means a rock singer, sounded like Dorothy in the middle of that famous Kansas tornado.

Her best song was one of the simplest, the noir tale called "Miriam," which Jones introduced by saying that it was OK to play her "creepy" song now that it was dark. Creepy, indeed. Jones played it on a little spinet piano, singing its slow, opening, minor-third playground taunt — "Mi-ri-am" — with venomous glee, as bassist Josh Lattanzi harmonized beautifully.

Not surprisingly, Jones sounded most engaged on her country- and jazz-whisked material: Tom Waits' "Long Way Home," the Grateful Dead's "Roses" (an audience request, generously fulfilled), Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," the old-timey "If I Were A Painter" and the yearning "Lonestar."

When the crowd brought her back for an encore, the band gathered around a big, old-school microphone like they were at the Grand Ole Opry and played acoustic instruments, including accordion and parade drum. The audience sang along with the "ooh, ooh, oohs" of the lilting "Sunrise" and clapped in time with "Creepin' In."

A pleasant end to a pleasant — if not exactly momentous — outdoor summer show.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

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