Concert Review – Jason Isbell & Frank Turner

JasonIsbellBank of NH Pavilion, Gilford, New Hampshire on 19 June 2016

An honest moment in reality television is usually accidental, but on some rare occasions the private plays out in public, and art springs forth. That’s the case when Jason Isbell performs “Cover Me Up” with his band The 400 Unit. He introduces it as the most difficult song he’s ever written.

I sobered up and swore off that stuff, forever this time,” Isbell sings, and every time the crowd roars in acknowledgement and approval. The Alabama native glances lovingly across the stage at his fiddle player and wife, Amanda Shires, who is the inspiration for the song. She’s also the reason he’s still up there at all, after partying his way out of a band and nearly to death just a few years ago.

That, the opening track of Isbell’s stellar 2013 album Southeastern, was one among many high points during his headlining set at Bank of NH Pavilion at Meadowbrook. He dedicated “Outfit,” a song from his Drive-By Trucker days, to his dad; but set closer “Children of Children” – an ode to his mother, who gave birth to him at age 15 – was the more potent take on parenthood. Coincidentally, it was also Isbell’s first Father’s Day with kids of his own.

Isbell neatly summed up his naked fearlessness as a songwriter in a 2015 interview with Grantland. “I think your job is to try to be as honest as you possibly can and write about those things that make you uncomfortable sometimes,” he said.

His set kicked off with the South Carolina inspired “Palmetto Rose,” and highlights included several songs from his most recent album, Something More Than Free: “24 Frames,” “Speed Trap Town,” “If It Takes a Lifetime” and the title cut, each rendered like Flannery O’Connor with a guitar.

He encored with the spare “Flagship” – dedicated to Shires and only performed when she’s in the band, it featured a gorgeous fiddle solo – and ended the balmy night with “Never Gonna Change,” another burn down the house rocker from his old band.

Set List – Palmetto Rose/Stockholm/24 Frames/Tour of Duty/Outfit/How to Forget/Traveling Alone/Decoration Day/Speed Trap Town/Alabama Pines/Codeine/Cover Me Up/If It Takes a Lifetime/Super 8/Something More Than Free/Flying Over Water/Children of Children Encore – Flagship/Never Gonna Change

The stage backdrop was church styled stained glass, an ironic motif for opener Frank Turner. He’s an avowed atheist, but at his best his performances feel like a tent revival, with call and response songs and the lanky dervish racing across the stage, climbing the drum kit and speaking in tongues.

He channels the voices of earthly saints, however – Elvis, Jerry Lee and Johnny – “all the greats,” to quote Turner’s set opener, “I Still Believe.” Faith works in many forms for the British folk rocker. “I still believe in the sound,” he sings, “that has the power to raise a temple and tear it down.”

Turner deserves to be headlining whenever he plays. Though he provided a bracing and electrifying 40 minute show, it was too short and entreaties for an encore were rebuffed. With luck and foresight, he’ll be back soon topping the bill at Concord’s Capitol Center or Manchester’s Palace Theatre – or the Old Sol Music Hall when it opens in a year or two.

It was fun while it lasted, with one roaring tune after another, some from last year’s breakthrough album, Positive Songs for Negative People. “The Next Storm,” “The Opening Act of Spring” and “Silent Key” all came early in Turner’s set. The latter was inspired by New Hampshire hero Christa McAuliffe, a fact Turner noted before playing a first-ever reworking of the song, which had the ragged but right sound of a Led Zeppelin III outtake.

Turnout was shamefully low given the show’s great one-two punch – the holiday and Game 7 of the NBA Finals probably played a role. Turner engaged the crowd like it was the House of Blues in Boston, which he sold out twice last winter, with singalongs, and audience participation which included bringing a fan onstage to play harmonica on song.

Turner added the fan to his band The Sleeping Souls based on enthusiasm. “He’s been singing every word to all the songs, and just having a great time,” he said. That he was sitting in a VIP front row seat wasn’t a factor, and the guy didn’t even know how to play the mouth harp.

He learned quickly, however. It was that kind of night.

Set List

I Still Believe/The Next Storm/Recovery/Long Live the Queen/The Opening Act of Spring/Dan’s Song (solo acoustic)/Silent Key (solo acoustic)/The Way I Tend to Be/Photosynthesis/Get Better

Local Rhythms – That’s customer service

Screen shot 2009-10-01 at 9.29.07 AMMusically, summer began early and ended late this year.  But what do you call the damp chilliness that came in between?

Summer for hobbits, perhaps.  I know I felt like a mushroom for most of the last three months.

The words “rain or shine” had a poignant meaning for anyone trying to make or enjoy music. Every ticket purchase was a bet on the weather.  July was a washout, and August wasn’t much better.

For promoters trying to do business in this down economy, things were bleak indeed.  Live Nation lawn seats went unsold by the thousands, even when practically given away.

Of course, after years of sticking it to fans with inflated prices, ridiculous fees and scalping good tickets, their comeuppance was overdue.

Still, it seemed like Mother Nature was piling on.

Taking care of customers can be rewarding, however. Two examples stand out.

In early June, Roots on the River celebrated its 10th year in Bellows Falls with four blissful days of music, most of them rain-free.  It began as a whimsical way to bring Fred Eaglesmith to town for a couple of days, now “Fred Fest” is an institution.

Ray Massucco dubbed this year’s event “Fred X” – an absolutely, positively good time.  “Fredheads,” as Mr. Eaglesmith’s fans are fondly known, responded in force.  Deluxe weekend packages, including goodie bags and other special treats, were close to sold out.

But everyone, courtesy of Ray, got a piece of cake.  That’s taking care of business.

Over in the Lakes Region, Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion presented 25 shows, ranging from classic rock, jazz, indie and a lot of country music.  Unlike many in the business, when their season ended, Meadowbrook’s management was pleased.

Next year will commence Gilford facility’s 15th year.  It began as a portable stage and folding chairs in the middle of a field, now it’s the classiest concert facility in all of New England.  Its’ sightlines, concessions and margaritas are the best around.

What’s amazing to me is that many people barely know it exists.

One trip should change that.

A building is just concrete and steel. The Meadowbrook difference is the smile on every employee’s face and the customer care that’s constantly on display.  Little touches like free parking, same-day ticket deals and letting fans lay away seats matter too.

As Alan Jackson sang “Remember When” on Saturday, I recalled when customer service and live music weren’t mutually exclusive.

Fortunately, such care survives in Bellows Falls and Gilford.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Oct. 1: Acoustic Coalition, Hartness House – Here’s something new. An acoustic open mike series that’s been running for years in Woodstock and Quechee comes to Springfield, Vermont, hosted by Mark Koch.  The Hartness House is a beautiful old mansion with tons of charm, with plans for more music in the weeks to come (like Hungrytown’s Rebecca Hall next Thursday).

Friday, Oct. 2: Bob Marley, Claremont Opera House – One of the funniest people alive, and the hardest working comedian I know is back for another area show.  Unlike many comics, Bob brings a new set of material every time he comes to town.  He can form a bit in his head in the morning and have it audience-ready by the time he walks on stage, riffing on current events, his parents and life in New England.  He’s the essence of Ha!

Saturday, Oct. 3: Christabel & the Jons, Salt hill Pub – A Knoxville, Tenn. band led by a singer with an angelic voice, backed by a band featuring upright bass, violin, accordion and occasionally trumpet.  Their new album, “Custom Made for You,” reminds me of another Knoxville chanteuse, Robinella, mixed with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks.  Another awesomely cool “get” for the Lebanon pub – how do they do it?

Sunday, Oct. 4: Paddle Battle, Herrick’s Cove – Amidst resplendent foliage, canoe enthusiasts of all levels will enjoy the Connecticut River, either by relaxing or pushing themselves to the limit.  There’s a course laid out for the serious racer, while casual paddlers can enter an open class race, or help with river cleanup.  Music provided by Springfield legends the Illusion, a band that’s been at it for over 40 years. More: http://www.ctrpaddlebattle.com

Monday, Oct. 5: This is Our Victory Tour, Hooker-Dunham (Brattleboro) – A metal show with Beneath the Sky, Corpus Christi, A Breath Beyond Broken and two others.  Presented by Graveyard Booking, also doing a 7-band show at Springfield’s newest venue, 802 Music, on Saturday, Oct. 3.

Wednesday, Oct. 7: Emily Lanier, Marshland Farm – I enjoyed her with New Kind of Blue.  After leaving that group, the jazz vocalist formed the Emily Lanier Jazz Ensemble, with a rotating pool of talent playing a steady diet of standards like “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” “Deed I Do” and “Stormy Weather.”

Shed Woes – region’s live music biz adapts

Chris Lockwood - Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavillion
Chris Lockwood - Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavillion

Remember when the concert market behaved like it had Hermes handbags on offer, not Jimmy Buffett seats?  Akin to luxury goods, the demand for high-end talent at a premium price seemed recession-proof.  The question wasn’t whether fans would pay, but how much.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the gold mine.

Sir Paul McCartney, usually a sure thing, barely sold out Fenway Park.  Aerosmith/Dropkick Murphys struggled to fill the Comcast Center – a hometown gig, no less; hundreds of AC/DC Gillette Stadium tickets were quietly given away.

Stunned by their sudden reversal of fortune, Live Nation launched weekly Wednesday specials, with half price pairs and “all-in” no service fee offers at all four of their New England sheds.

That promotion, coupled with $5 ducat web deals from Subway and Citi, flooded the market with cheap tickets, but Live Nation spokesman John Vlautin believes it’s all good.

“The specials have brought in hundreds of thousands of new fans who might not have attended a concert this summer,” he said in an e-mail interview, adding that Live Nation plans to offer the Wednesday bargains indefinitely. “It’s been very positive for music fans who are getting a great deal and for the artists who are playing to more people night in and night out.”

But Chris Lockwood, Marketing Director at Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion in Gilford, is less sanguine.

“No doubt fans are happy, but what’s going to happen next year? It’s definitely not true on the artist side of things,” says Lockwood, who thinks such sales stunts amount to “conditioning their customers to not buy their product.”

“It’s a bad business model,” he concludes.

Meadowbrook addresses worsening economic conditions differently, says Lockwood.  They sent a $3 direct mail coupon in May that’s still being redeemed on a regular basis, and offered a layaway program to help fans on a budget lock in premium seats.

Last minute blowout sales occasionally happen usually via a blast to Meadowbrook’s e-mail list.  “MTV Sunblock Tour” 4-packs sold for more than half off a week before the show.  But package deals – show tickets combined with dinner at the on-site “Center Stage” restaurant or a performer ‘meet and greet’ – are preferred.

In a clever co-op, Laconia Savings Bank bought and gave away 500 seats to three slow-moving June Bike Week shows, in exchange for event sponsorship, which usually costs thousands of dollars.  “We sold the tickets for service fees only, and the bank got 1,500 new customers,” says Chris.

Two big “all-in” promotions are left before the Meadowbrook season ends in September.  A $99 “Country Boys of Summer” package offers lawn seats for Big & Rich (8/30), Tim McGraw (9/5) and Alan Jackson (9/26), while the $99 “Rock Pack” includes lawn seats to four consecutive shows – Lynyrd Skynyrd/Joan Jett (8/21), Moody Blues (8/22), Judas Priest/Whitesnake (8/23) and Allman Brothers/Widespread Panic (8/24).

Verizon Wireless Arena appears to be dealing with the down economy by booking fewer shows.  But bargains can be had – a batch of $13.99 tickets for ‘tween queen Demi Lovato’s Auygust 24 show are gone, but $39.99 floor seats were still available last Thursday.

Tupelo Music Hall is weathering the economic storm without resorting to fire sales – one of the luxuries of being a small venue, says owner Scott Hayward.

“We’re in a fairly aggressive growth cycle,” reports Hayward, who just announced plans to open a second location in Salisbury, Massachusetts.  The beachfront club will seat 800, more than triple the capacity of the Londonderry location.

The recession has had some effect, notes Hayward. “People aren’t buying as many tickets as they used to, but we’re still selling out 70 percent of our shows, and we’re above where we were last year.”

Why?  “We’re in a tight niche,” Hayward says simply of the small, BYOB room, that caters to serious music fans.  “We get a lot of big names.  It’s not hard to sell 240 seats.”

Tupelo does offer a fan loyalty card that includes a waiver of their BYOB fee, but, says Hayward, “that’s not designed to save fans money, it’s for our base” – regulars who are more than willing to pay for advance notice of appearances from the likes of John Hiatt, Paula Cole and Shawn Colvin.

“These shows sell out so fast that if you’re at work, you’ll miss it,” says Hayward.

Tupelo Music Hall Salisbury, due to open in late October or early November, will feature top-level talent – Bruce Hornsby, Indigo Girls, Lyle Lovett, B.B. King – along with Londonderry regulars like Johnny Winter and the Little River Band.

Hayward can guess why he’s succeeding in challenging times.

“It’s not that the bigger rooms are doing anything wrong,” he says.  “It’s just a bigger machine to feed.”

15 Minutes with a rock God – Ian Hill of Judas Priest

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Ian Hill, founding member of Judas Priest

Whatever your opinion of Judas Priest’s sturm und drang music, you’ve got to love lead singer Rob Halford – for his common sense, if nothing else.

A 1990 lawsuit accused the band of inserting subliminal messages into their songs, and driving two disturbed young men to suicide.   Bollocks, was Halford’s retort.  Urging fans to kill themselves is counterproductive.  Better to secretly urge them, he said, to “buy more of our records.”

Sunday, ‘Priest’ hits Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion in Gilford for the final night of their American tour with headliner Whitesnake.  The show will feature a complete performance of the band’s most successful album, “British Steel.”

Bass player and founding member Ian Hill spoke recently spoke with Michael Witthaus:

MW: Any favorite moments on the tour?

IH: We’ve done so many places; the main thing is the show, which we always enjoy.  Days off are few and far between.

MW: You’re ending in Gilford.

IH: Beautiful part of the country, New Hampshire, it’s our first time playing in Gilford. We’re looking forward to somewhere with a bit of scenery.  Last time around, we went to Lake Champlain in Vermont.  We rented speedboats and motored from one end of the lake to the other, peered through people’s back windows.

MW:  How has the response been to the nightly performances of British Steel?

IH:  Fans know what to expect, which is great.  Though really, it’s something we’ve never done. Someone pointed out it was the 30-year anniversary; when you play the songs every night, you tend to forget which album it came from.  British Steel was the first one we had a U.S. tour with where we were the headliner.

MW: When did you first come to America?

IH:  In 1977; in 1980 we opened for REO Speedwagon. Then we were special guests with Foghat and Journey. We began British Steel as special guests with KISS – damn good start that – and then went on our own.  We must have done something right.

MW: How did you start the band?

IH:  We were both about 17 when we started playing together in 1969. Kenneth [guitarist K.K.” Downing] and I weren’t really close friends until we realized our common interest in music. We formed what was really a school band, with a chum called John Ellis.  Judas Priest was another band. Their lead vocalist, Alan Atkins, came round and asked to sing.  Family commitments caused him to leave, but we kept the name.

MW:  What were your influences?

IH:  Honestly, I listened to white boy blues – Eric Clapton, John Mayall.  But my big influence was Jack Bruce, and Cream.  I thought their live recordings were stand up.  I still listen to Wheels of Fire today.

MW:  You moved away from finger picking your bass in recent years.  Why?

IH:  Clarity, really – it’s a cleaner, sharper sound.  When you have a couple of distorted guitars, you need that clean sound to put it through.

MW:  How has the second time around with Rob Halford been?

IH:   All was well when Rob came back.  Everything clicked into place like an old jigsaw puzzle.  We did some good material with Tim (“Ripper” Owens, who replaced Halford from 1996-2003).  He’s a great vocalist, great bloke.  But being a fan of the band, he could see the sense of it.  In every interview, we were asked if Rob was coming back.

Jackson Browne does his thing @ Meadowbrook

Picture 2For a guy who named his latest album “Time the Conqueror,” Jackson Browne has held up well.   Of course, the grey beard he sported on that record’s cover is shaved, and the white highlights of his straight pageboy haircut re-colored.  So perhaps time has conquered the California man-child, but as Browne played on a warm night to a near-sold out house at Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion, he looked limber and sounded sharp.

After several years of touring alone in support of “Solo Acoustic Volumes 1 & 2” greatest hits collections, Browne’s out with a band this time, and a hard rocking attitude.  There was nary a wooden guitar in sight. Though his two-hour set relied on a lot of material from the latter part of his career, the crowd didn’t seem to mind.  In fact, the biggest ovation of the night came at the end of “About My Imagination” from the 2001 release, “The Naked Ride Home,” which showcased Chavonne Morris and Alethea Mills, two young vocalists Browne found in a South Los Angeles prep school.

Other highlights included “Lives In the Balance,” reworked with a new verse (sung by Morris), “The Pretender,” the rarely heard “Late Show” (an underappreciated gem from “Late for the Sky”), a spare “Jamaica Say You Will” and the encore, Browne’s cover of Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am A Patriot.”

It’s likely that many in attendance were unfamiliar with “I’ll Do Anything” and some of the other obscure nuggets Browne chose, not to mention the four songs he played from “Time The Conqueror” – a good record that, unfortunately, can only be heard on a few satellite radio stations.

The encore incorporated an Isley Brothers’ funk classic into the middle portion, which turned out to be a perfect representation of Browne’s apparent mood.  ‘It’s your thing/do what you wanna do,” he sang, and did just that.  He gently complained mid-set that the set list he chose never seemed to please everyone. So he chose to please himself.  Fortunately, the audience was with him for most of the ride.

Local Rhythms – Greenerpalooza gets Browne

Picture 23Most people look at the roofline of Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion and see the Lakes Region’s premier live music venue. Chris Lockwood envisions a green energy future.

Its slope and location are perfect for photovoltaic panels. “We have the potential to be New Hampshire’s largest producer of solar power,” says Lockwood, the venue’s Marketing Director.

Chris is a passionate advocate for the Meadowbrook’s environmental initiatives.  “When I came here out of college, the first thing I thought was ‘we have to make this place green,” he said.

To that end, he’s been a driving force behind the “Greenerpalooza” showcase. The second annual event, co-sponsored by Ocean Bank, PSNH and the NH Business Resource Center, happens Thursday, July 16 in conjunction with Jackson Browne’s appearance there.

Fans can wander around an “eco-village” in the Meadowbrook midway and visit 25 vendors from around the state.  Many environmentally responsible products and services will be on display, including alternative energy, smart home design, electric cars and earth-friendly cosmetics.

“Greenerpalooza” is the public relations part of the venue’s ongoing commitment “to have the least amount of negative impact on our environment.”

Meadowbrook’s tangible steps to reduce its carbon footprint are impressive.  They include increased recycling, use of products made with recycled materials and on-site bio-diesel, used for on-stage production and tour bus refueling.

At last year’s event, the headliner lent their name – but not much more, This time around, Jackson Browne is “really into” the effort, says Lockwood.

The singer-songwriter’s commitment to alternative energy and the environment is well known.  Browne founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) with Bonnie Raitt, John Hall and Graham Nash, and once was arrested for chaining himself to the entrance of a nuclear power plant (Diablo Canyon, in 1981).

These days, Browne drives a hybrid car, and lives “off the grid” on a Southern California ranch with a wind turbine, solar electricity and other energy-saving gadgetry.  In 2007, the home was the subject of Green Planet’s “Living With Ed” documentary show.

Browne welcomed Meadowbrook’s offer to tap into their bio-diesel generator to power his sound.  He’ll also employ an energy-efficient LED lighting system for his show.

Lockwood also hopes the rocker will urge his audience to check out the Greenerpalooza showcase, and learn how to take earth-friendly steps in their own lives.

Around the time Jackson Browne was starting MUSE, I worked on a solar energy awareness project called “Sun Day,” dreaming of a rock show powered by alternative energy.

It’s certainly a pleasure to see that dream become a reality – right in my own backyard.

Speaking of which, here are some other local entertainment options, at a few of my favorite places:

Wednesday: Second Wind, Green Acres – A wine tasting at a this Claremont store that’s been through a few changes since its opening.  There are more places to sit, a bigger selection of bottles of the shelf and great prepared food.   Their barista makes the best latte in town.  Add to that the talented duo of Terry Gould and Suzy Hastings, better known as Second Wind, and you have the makings for a lovely evening.

Thursday:  Pete Merrigan, Bistro Nouveau – I met my bride-to-be at a Newport Opera House performance by Merrigan’s Mad Beach Band. 28 years later, I can say that turned out OK.  So it’s good to know Pete and the band are planning a reunion show at the same venue on August 31.  Meanwhile, Pete’s solo appearances are always a treat, and since he moved back from Florida, something you can do year-round.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – One of the area’s finest jazz combos returns to downtown Claremont.  Rosen has a delicate touch on the guitar, reminiscent of Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Pat Metheny.  He personifies “smooth,” S&Z’s Brown Block location never ceases to amaze me.  It’s roomy yet intimate, and the new, expanded bar is always buzzing with activity.

Saturday: Green River Festival (Greenfield, MA) – If you can only make one music festival this summer, this is a good choice – particularly considering the first day (Friday, 5 PM start) features performances from every artist on the coolest indie label anywhere, Signature Sounds.  Winterpills, Rani Arbo, Eilen Jewell and Richard Shindell all stop by, and on Saturday, Michael Franti, Kathleen Edwards and 10 others perform, including Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes.

Sunday: Celia Sings Sinatra, Canoe Club – This downtown Hanover restaurant has great food, an inventive beer list and interesting drinks.  But none of that matters to me as much as Canoe Cub’s commitment to live music, 363 days a year.  Nights like this one with Celia are particularly special – he’s a dead ringer for the Chairman of the Board, and a lot of fun to boot.

Monday: Freshlyground, Iron Horse – From Capetown, South Africa to Northampton, Massachusetts, this band’s musical palette suggests “Graceland” era Paul Simon wed to Macy Gray’s soulfulness.  Quirky stuff – on “Pot Belly” (streaming on their MySpace page), lead singer Zolani Mahola croons, “you got fat thighs, flabby arms, but your pot belly still gives good loving.”

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – An Upper Valley treasure that’s gone in 5 years from treat to institution to (dare I say it?) franchise.  Look for a third Salt hill opening in Hanover right around Homecoming in October. Just like the Newport and Lebanon locations, there will be music.  About tonight: if you haven’t stopped in after work (or looking for work – times are hard) to check out this circle of scintillating sound, you’re really missing out.

Diana Krall @ Meadowbrook

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Diana Krall - Photo by Michael Witthaus

Though threatening skies didn’t open up, Diana Krall still had to contend with nature Friday night in Gilford.  Every bullfrog, cricket and critter in the Lakes Region seemed to stir during the quiet moments of her sublime, two-hour set.

Considering Krall’s appearance was in support of a new release called “Quiet Nights,” this occasionally proved problematic.

“I … just … want … silence,” sighed Krall at one point.  “I’m going to meditate on that.”  Despite the intrusions, Krall was in fine form and good humor throughout.

As she prepared to play a Nat King Cole song, a baby’s cry broke through the darkness. Responding to a sound perhaps more familiar to the New York City-dweller and recent mother of twins, she switched up and played a few bars of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” calling it her “Jiminy Cricket” moment.

She then launched into “Deed I Do,” from her 1996 Cole tribute “All For You,” and never looked back. Diana Krall is the proverbial whole package, combining wit, charm and a raw talent that few musicians can match.

She’s able to shape her voice to not only match the mood of whatever song she’s playing, but to unearth previously undetected nuance and meaning.  While there may be more technically proficient piano players around, none owns their instrument quite like Krall.

When she cut loose, on Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” (from her recent “Live in Rio” DVD), or the show closing “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” she was utterly, jaw-droppingly sensational.

The chemistry between Krall and her band – guitarist Tony Wilson, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bass player Robert Hurst – was stunning.  When Krall leaned back from her piano to watch Hurst bow his upright bass or take in one of Wilson’s many amazing solos, it was clear she was having as much fun as the audience.

Other highlights included the sultry “Where Or When” and the title track from “Quiet Nights,” as well as the early favorites “Peel Me A Grape” and the bouncy, buoyant “Let’s Fall In Love.”

Both Krall’s latest CD and DVD are elaborate productions, layered with orchestral flourishes and bright studio wizardry.  But Friday, it was simply Krall and her band on a sparsely furnished stage, lit by moody blue lights.  She nearly succeeded in shrinking the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion down to the size of a smoky Lower Manhattan jazz club.

Almost.

The crowd behaved with polite deference, but the insects didn’t quite cooperate.  “It’s a bug’s life up here,” joked Krall after one of them bit her leg mid-song.  Though it was undoubtedly one of the most superlative shows the comfy shed had witnessed, the music was a little too quiet for the rustic amphitheatre.

No complaints about the music, or for that matter the venue, which is by far the best for (most) outdoor music in all of New England.  But next time through, let’s hope Diana Krall plays a smaller room, charging twice as much, for half as many fans.