Tonight sees the much acclaimed and Grammy award winning Diana Krall bring her Wallflower Tour to Birmingham. I must admit that I wouldn’t call myself a big fan but her current album, Wallflower, sees some wonderful interpretations of songs, some would say ‘classics’, and so it was with some anticipation I arrived at the Symphony Hall, which one could argue offers one of the best musical sound experiences there is, given it was specifically built to house orchestral performances.
Tonight’s show is sold out and the boards outside the doors indicate that the show will start at 19:50, end at 21:30 with no break. I’d hope there wouldn’t be a break if that that is the length of the set. Indeed the doors open at 19:30, and a large queue of mainly sixty somethings are by now chuntering at having to wait to take their seats.
The stage is dressed to hark back to a bygone era, a large backdrop reflects an old radio tuning screen, and there are several imitation boxes on stage to look like old valve radios, they glow and dim throughout the evening to add extra ambience. Centre-left of the stage is a huge black Steinway piano and it is here that Diana places herself at the stroke of eight. There are no big entrances, no fanfares. The five piece band walks on, and she follows after them. Dressed head to toe in black, a frock coat, leather trousers and her tousled mane of blonde hair, which will be tossed, flicked and moved out of her face throughout the show.
She apologies for being late but “our truck got a flat tyre, it’s a huge truck” before opening with “We just couldn’t say goodbye”. Tinkling the piano, that familiar smoky voice fills the hall to the point that during the soft breathy parts if you close your eyes it’s almost as though she were whispering in your ear. Sadly the only person whispering in mine was the unpleasant octogenarian behind me who took umbrage to me trying to write the set-list and notes down on my very dimly lit phone.
Stand out song “Just like a butterfly” is the gentlest beautiful song I’ve heard for some time, and during the pauses the silence is such that the large fan high in the hall’s ceiling can be heard. It is a breath-taking performance. After six songs the band exit leaving Diana alone, “Let’s face the music and dance” is a magnificent rendition before she asks “so what you wanna hear” to which various songs are shouted out and none can be deciphered. She is toying with us as she says “I’ll play you this” before a spellbinding cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Case of you”, followed by “S’wonderful” and “Sit right down and write myself a letter”. However, on later seeing the set-list for tonight (courtesy of our photographer) these songs are all pre-planned and so the thought of the audience having any influence over what she may play is simply mind games making the audience think they may actually have some influence over what song she will play during this solo section.
The band returns and yet more solo’s follow, and finally after just over ninety minutes, yes an hour and a half she thanks Birmingham and takes her exit. Tickets tonight were upwards of nearly forty five pounds and for such a short set this doesn’t seem very good value, indeed even more so if you count the actual minutes minus the band solo jazz efforts, which at times gave the impression of a jam session. Even more disappointing is that tonight’s set features so few songs from the current Wallflower album, and the oddities don’t stop there.
Merchandise is limited to a T-shirt with dates on and standard release cd’s. I spoke to the merch guy about the lack of vinyl, or a signed item which many people on tour are now doing and he said ‘this is all we have’. I almost got the impression that they, be it the management or indeed Diana herself, couldn’t be bothered and to almost cement this thought the programme, at £12 was less than twelve pages in content and features details of her latest album “Glad Rag Doll” (released back in 2012). So am I being cynical to suggest the programme is actually old stock? There’s even a full page advert for Rolex watches. Make your own conclusions.
So to summarise tonight’s show was at times, when on her own, stunning. Diana Krall is hugely talented, but the short set, the high prices and the time spent filling and jamming by her backing band was very disappointing. The musicians with her are clearly very talented but at several times during the (already short) set they go off into solos, with each taking turns and during this time Diana simply sits and watches from her piano stool, as if she were a member of the audience. It seems quite unfair that the main attraction sees fit to sit for periods watching her backing band (whom she introduces no less than three times) when all we want to see and hear is her.
However, this is just my own opinion, and I’m sure many of the audience would disagree with me, but tonight was not value for money, and that seems a little rude in these times of austerity. Taking the ticket price, parking, a drink and a programme into account would see you paying almost a pound a minute. That in anyone’s view could be improved.
Review: Glenn Raybone
Photographs: Katie Foulkes