Live Review: Nicole Atkins @ The Hamilton Live — 7/10/22

Nicole Atkins
Nicole Atkins (Photo by Barbara FG)

“I wrote this song with my boyfriend from high school, Chris Isaak,” Nicole Atkins said of “A Little Crazy” during her recent performance at The Hamilton Live in DC. “He didn’t know we were dating.”

On July 10 at The Hamilton Live, Nicole opened her set by coming out alone and playing “Neptune City” solo electric. Her band, The Family, joined her for the second tune of the evening “AM Good,” at the end of which she interjected, “that’s a Barbra Streisand reference.” Nicole’s references can sometimes skew a little outside of what you might expect to hear in these clubs; her self-proclaimed “pop noir” style ranges over influences that many artists overlook, so a Barbra Streisand reference is something you might get from her that you wouldn’t typically hear in the rock clubs.

As is her words for “A Little Crazy,” which she declared, “Part of the Ted Danson slow dancing contest.” It’s not the least bit clear to me why Ted Danson is being mentioned here, but I do know, as someone who works with language, that the specificity is what makes it work.

“Maybe Tonight” got a good reception. “I’m glad people remember that,” Nicole said. She added she’s recording that record — Neptune City — her debut, because “I don’t own it,” and that the new edition would contain additional material. And not only is she re-recording the album, she’s also turning it into a musical. “A lot happened over Covid,” she said.

Watch the official music video for “Maybe Tonight” by Nicole Atkins on YouTube:

“Goodnight Rhonda Lee,” Nicole told the audience is “a song about drunk and annoying people. “All of these are true,” Nicole said as she introduced “Never Going Home Again.” She told one about making a 7.5 hour drive to Montauk, where they were bumped for a DJ with a saxophone, who went by then name of DJ Goldfish. The place being Montauk, everyone was wearing $1,000 bikini tops.

The evening’s most touching moment was with the song “Captain.” Nicole introduced it as “about somebody in your family that takes care of others before themselves,” and added, “we don’t need 20 lbs. of lasagna, we just need you to be nice.” If there are 20 lbs. of lasagna somewhere, though, and you’re not going to eat it Nicole, let me know, because I’m very interested, but I have some questions, like, what kind of lasagna is it? Is there meat in the lasagna? To be perfectly, I’m inclined to eat any lasagna you might be able to offer regardless of the answers to these questions. (Despite the protestations of my sometime associate, Casey Vock, that no one should ever eat lasagna, I am inclined to eat it whenever I have the chance.)

After “Mind Eraser,” Nicole called for the house to turn on the disco ball as she sang “Domino,” and then did “Cool Enough.” Emphasizing her Jersey credentials — she’s from the Garden State, and she lived in Asbury Park, she talked about how she used be neighbors with Southside Johnny, of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. She called him a “big grump,” which is accurate, though, the truth runs a bit deeper; in his memoir, Stevie Van Zandt mentions that Johnny has struggled with depression. Nicole always liked Johnny’s song, “I Wanna Go Home,” so she did her own version, “In The Splinters.” “Mine’s better,” she said; you won’t see me issuing an opinion on such a direct comparison, as it’s hazardous to my career.

Watch Nicole Atkins perform “In The Splinters” live for WFUV on YouTube:

We got a real display of drum heroics when Nicole introduced her band. Her drummer, she mentioned, was a child prodigy, and the two met when he was still young, years before they would work together. If I heard correctly, his parents owned a danced school. He showed off a truly impressive solo that absolutely rocked the rock house, before Nicole and the Family closed the set with “Listen Up” and “The Way It Is.”

For her encore, Nicole returned to stage alone. She played a new song, one that’s going to appear on upcoming album, High Standards. The concept for the album is “modern standards,” songs that are the in model of standards, but are about contemporary subjects. The songs don’t come right and name the those things, though, because, if you do that, you tie the songs too much to this specific moment in time, and they’re not going to hold up at all. Punning on the title, the cover concept she’s working involves marijuana imagery. The song she played to send the audience home was about a serial Tinder narcissist. I narrowly escaped being a target of this song, as I am a serial narcissist on Match, Bumble, and Hinge, but not Tinder.

Nicole is a truly phenomenal singer. Her influences include Chrissie Hynde, Roy Orbison, and Chris Isaak, which is pretty ambitious, but she’s more than capable of pulling it off. She has great tone and range, and she can project, too. Had we not been in a basement, there were moments she would have shaken the building, she’s that powerful.

I’ve loved her albums for a long time, so I was really excited to finally get to see her to perform live. Nicole put on a great set, with terrific songs, and that voice just can’t be beat.

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