On her most recent album, the moody and wistful Glad Rag Doll, piano player turned chanteuse Diana Krall teamed up with producer T-Bone Burnett to turn a collection of mostly forgotten songs from the 1920s into something weird and wonderful. At Proctors, she and her five-piece band upped the ante by emphasizing the wistful and weird—which, combined with a peculiarly well-programmed, near-constant series of film clips filling a huge screen behind the musicians, made the live performance more compelling than the album.
The stage was dressed in New Orleans whorehouse red, complete with player piano on the left and wind-up Victrola at far right. Before the band came out, the player piano cranked out Fats Waller while spooky black & white cartoons unspooled in which eggs danced cheerfully before melting into breakfast and Betty Boop shimmied down the avenue. Then the band wandered in and lurched into the malevolent “When the Curtain Comes Down.” Steve Buscemi, looking late to his own funeral, intoned the verse on the big screen before Krall took over the vocals on the chorus.
That set a tone.
Next, they played Annette Hanshaw’s “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye,” a cute love song that, with its anthropomorphic evocation of sentient clocks and furniture lamenting a couple’s break-up, was the musical counterpoint to the cartoons. Next came a tune made famous by Bix and Bing (Beiderbeck and Crosby, that is), followed by another charming Hanshaw ode to the sadness of love—and the show was in full flower.
These are the kinds of songs that never made it into the “great American songbook,” and Krall takes an evident delight in bringing them back; more to the point, she makes audiences appreciate their timelessness.
Except for Krall’s solo portion of the program, the videos never let up. “Just You, Just Me,” a pleasing, upbeat romantic tune, was accompanied by the graceful shenanigans of cross-eyed comic Ben Turpin and partner; this was immediately followed by “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” illustrated by Carole Lombard and George Raft, all art deco sleekness on the dance floor. Like I said, beautifully programmed.
Krall herself has a loopy stage charm, and delivered song introductions that often morphed into family memories, Canadian reveries and sly references to her hubby Elvis and their potty-mouthed children. But however wide the digressions, they never altered the off-kilter, all-enveloping mood.