A sad fact of life is that people often skip concerts given by performers they aren’t familiar with, thereby missing some phenomenal music and amazing shows. Friday night’s concert by Nicole Atkins (@NicoleAtkins) at Landmark on Main Street was exactly that, and whoever unfortunately missed it, missed what may be one of the best shows of the year.
Even her entrance was unusual. After a lovely introduction by WFUV’s John Platt, the stage remained empty as a somewhat perplexed audience waited for her to step out. Instead, we began to hear an ethereal voice coming from the back of the theater. Atkins, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, walked through the audience towards the front of the stage, while singing the title track of her second CD, “Neptune City.” After taking the stage, she was joined by guitarist Marc Muller who Atkins claimed was her high school guitar teacher in New Jersey. Throughout the rest of the evening, Muller accompanied Atkins’ soaring vocals with increasingly spectacular guitar playing.
Atkins has it all – a stellar voice with both a broad range in octaves and in emotional delivery, combined with some heavy-duty songwriting chops. She did some covers – most notably a few Lee Hazelwood gems, including a breath-taking rendition of “My Autumn’s Done Come” — but Atkins really has no need for covers as her originals are so strong. Her originals often feature large vocal skips (not an easy feat), a soaring chorus, and poetic imagery in the lyrics. Take, for example, the touching “Hotel Plaster” where she sings “My pain could learn to play the violin.” Even her titles are evocative, such as “Together We Are Both Alone.”
Nicole Atkins has been compared to Roy Orbison, and it’s understandable why. Like Orbison, Atkins has incredible vocal control, range and flexibility. Also like Orbison, Atkins sings with tremendous feeling. She occasionally used a chorus or delay effect on one of her microphones in order to get a variety of sound (clever, considering most of the show was just her singing and Muller on guitar).
Muller deserves a mention of his own. Using just a Gibson acoustic guitar he managed to get every variety of sound: slide, picking, strumming. Muller was the master of all. He managed to achieve something that very few musicians can do – play an entire show with just one guitar and no other instruments or effects and get such a wide and interesting variety of sound that there was absolutely no “ear fatigue” for the listeners.
On Further Listen
Standout songs by Atkins included “Who Killed The Moonlight” (replete with unusual chord changes), the haunting “War Torn,” heartbreaking “Hotel Plaster,” and my favorite – “The Tower” – which made for a powerful closing number. If you missed this show, do yourself a favor and look up Nicole Atkins online (www.nicoleatkins.com) and give those songs a listen. I have not stopped listening since Friday’s performance.
Atkins’ encore was the perfect completion of the show. The encore, like her first song, was just Atkins and an acoustic guitar, perched on the edge of the stage as if playing for a circle of friends (which perhaps we all were by that time). The song she chose to end with? Roy Orbison’s beautiful classic, “Crying.” A perfect ending to a surprisingly wonderful evening.
Take a chance and see a performer you are not familiar with. It could end up to be the best show of all.
The next performance at Landmark on Main Street will be David Broza on Saturday, March 7th. For tickets and information, visit the Landmark’s web site.