It’s hard to believe that New Jersey songstress Nicole Atkins, with her buttery vocals and whimsical folk-pop musings, has stayed under the radar for so long, especially considering it’s really easy to point out similarities between Atkins’s throaty crooning and that of one-time pop darling Amy Winehouse (or hell, even Rufus Wainwright). Atkins’s stage presence is charming and earnest. “This is the weirdest day of my life,” the twenty-eight-year-old marveled to herself after asking the crowd at the sold-out January 25 Bowery Ballroom show, “Who the hell are you people?”
The running joke between Atkins and her fellow Sea bandmates, of course, being that when they initially booked the headlining gig, they didn’t think anyone — save for some Jersey Shore friends and Atkins’s Sicilian cousins — would even show. Since the October release of their full-length debut, Neptune City (Columbia), Akins and the Sea have hit the tour circuit full force, but you get the sense that headlining the Bowery is Atkins’s personal mark of break-out success.
Atkins dazzled onstage, outfitted in a sassy sequin-studded smock. (The Sea — guitarist Dave Hollinghurst, keyboardist Daniel “Cashmere” Chen, bassist Derek Layes, and drummer Dan Mintzer — wore matching black button-downs and ties.) By now, the Sea have their live set down pat. Atkins launched into the title track and hypnotized the crowd with her emphatic (so much so that it’s almost distracting) body language. Throughout the show, she’d clutch her guitar, bop around onstage and clap her hands, or simply fiddle with her blond-streaked hair.
The set, predictably, featured the rest of the album’s tracks, including sing-along friendly “Maybe Tonight,” “War Torn,” and “The Way It is.” Atkins even went acoustic at one point, inviting pal Stephen Warwick of North Carolina’s Secondhand Stories onstage, giving the crowd a taste of her early influences. (“Before all the bells and whistles,” she explained.) Atkins spent a few years there and picked up inspirational vibes from regional alt-rock bands.
The upbeat “Brookyn’s on Fire” and “Party’s Over” were mid-set highlights, as was “Carousel,” a boozy track from Atkins’s Bleeding Diamonds EP that signifies her vaguely gimmicky love affair with New Jersey’s dilapidated Asbury Park. Thankfully, the Jersey shtick wasn’t too overwhelming, and she even declared at one point, “I’m so glad I’m not in Asbury right now!”
The Parlor Mob, also from New Jersey, opened the evening, offering exactly what you’d expect from a quintet of skinny, mustachioed dudes in tight denim with headbang-length messes of hair. Their raunchy, ’70s-inspired sound and deliciously dirty guitar riffs — a few too reminiscent of George Thorogood — served its purpose, getting the crowd sufficiently amped. Vocalist Mark Melicia belted out sharp, bluesy vocals and possessed a gangly onstage swagger (plus a notably frizzy ‘do) that were obvious nods to Robert Plant. At times the shrill-factor of his falsetto merged a little too much into Geddy Lee territory, but it’s nothing a few beers couldn’t mellow. An interesting side note: Guitarist Paul Ritchie is Atkins’s boyfriend.
Also on the bill was Craig Wedren, former Shudder to Think frontman and current indie-composer extraordinaire and dapper showman. After recovering his misplaced set list and spitting out his gum on-stage, he showed off his signature operatic vocals. The set included mashed-up tracks from his Baby project as well as songs from 2005’s Lapland, peppered with Shudder standbys.
At the end of the evening, Atkins invited her openers back onstage for a silly, off-tune group rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.”
Photos by Chris La Putt