LIVE: Nicole Atkins @ Club Helsinki, 2/14/15

February 23rd, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg

Review by Fred Rudofsky

Threats of white-out, Polar Vortex conditions could not keep a hearty Valentine’s Day crowd from falling in love with Nicole Atkins at Club Helsinki. Amazingly, it was the New Jersey native’s first time playing the venerable Hudson venue.

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The dance floor was transformed into a sea of tables for couples, though some poor soul who couldn’t get a date for the show found himself a table anyway q0 feet from the stage. Beneath the stage marquee was a deep crimson backdrop; two microphones were positioned at the center while a stool and music stand were set off to the side.

Shortly after 9pm, a beguilingly naked voice and acoustic guitar emerged from the middle of the audience on the first tier. It was Atkins, singing the title track to her 2007 debut Neptune City. Decked out in a black and silver gown with a Polynesian motif, she was in absolute command and fine humor, strolling through the crowd and singing her heart out. A waitress passed by, set a plate down at a table during the song, and Atkins went right up to the couple and exclaimed, “There’s your steak!” By the end of the song (a bittersweet ode to her hometown), she was joined by Mark Muller on second acoustic guitar.

After the two took the stage, Atkins explained their unique approach to opening the show: “We wanted to make it as awkward as possible. I think we did it.” Setting aside her guitar, Atkins introduced Muller – “my guitar teacher” – and knocked out the audience with “Maybe Tonight” and “Together We’re Both Alone,” two sides of the romantic coin, anticipation and resignation. “You Only Live Twice,” the ’67 James Bond title track hit for Nancy Sinatra, was eerily seductive. Between verses, Atkins used the second microphone to create otherworldly sounds, making her voice take on theremin-like qualities. She employed the same microphone just as deftly on “Vultures,” a sinister song from Mondo Amore that she introduced with a laugh as “a song perfect for Valentine’s Day.” Muller’s high-on-the-fretboard accompaniment was dirge-like and perfectly aligned to Atkin’s banshee wail of “take all they can give!” Stripped down to voice and guitar, “The Way It Is” was very noir, worthy of inclusion in David Lynch’s upcoming revival of “Twin Peaks.”

“This is a song about punching a girl in the face!” quipped Atkins prior to the upbeat two-guitar country blues of “My Baby Don’t Lie,” her radiant smile masking the menacing tone of the lyrics. “Cool People,” the first song of the night from 2014’s Slow Phaser, explored social anxiety and self-acceptance, as the audience sang along on the chorus to Atkins’s delight. Lee Hazelwood’s decadent “My Autumn’s Done Come” (“Kiss all the pretty ones goodbye…./Throw all my tranquil pills away”) was a perfect fit alongside Atkins’ own “Hotel Plaster” and the deep soul of “Who Killed the Moonlight?,” inspired by a surreal dream (“It’s another song about shit dying… and also about getting it on”).

Engagingly, Atkins introduced “Red Ropes” as a song about “a born-again misfit” and noted prior to “It’s Only Chemistry” that love sometimes amounts to just smelling right to each other. Both songs were so cathartic and sexy that they elicited a few “Wow!” exclamations throughout the venue, as well as “Girl, you look amazing!,” a reference to an Atkins song that hit the airwaves last year.

The final four songs of the evening were remarkable. “War Torn” spoke in first-person voice for all the broken-hearted souls of the world. Borrowing a Smartphone from a man in the audience, Atkins got the lyrics lined up for a an aching rendition of “Groupie (Superstar),” a hit for the Carpenters. “The Tower” featured some Spanish guitar soloing by Muller and an astounding range of emotions from Atkins, who seemed like she was channeling an epic tale:

“We built a tower for all the town to see
Bricks, concrete, metal and memories
Inside the rocks and stone, spaces became our home
Arguments echoing, love made me so high

Searching for words for the end
But we built the tower too high…”

To close out the show, Atkins thanked everybody for braving the wintry conditions and remarked that her husband was stuck at an airport. Wandering into the audience with her guitar, she instructed all to sing along because “No one loved as hard as Roy Orbison.” Based on her thrilling rendition of “Crying”, no one loves as hard as Nicole Atkins, either. She compelled all to sing not only the chorus but the verses as well, which left her in tears of joy by the final note. Call it a love surreal, one hopefully worthy of a return date sometime soon.

Neptune City
Maybe Tonight
Together We’re Both Alone
You Only Live Twice (John Barry / Leslie Bricusse)
The Way It Is
My Baby Don’t Lie
Cool People
My Autumn’s Done Come (Lee Hazlewood)
Hotel Plaster
Who Killed the Moonlight?
Red Ropes
It’s Only Chemistry
War Torn
Groupie (Superstar) (Bonnie Bramlett / Leon Russell)
The Tower
Crying (Roy Orbison)

One thought on “LIVE: Nicole Atkins @ Club Helsinki, 2/14/15”

  1. Jim Zinsmeister says:

    An excellent review of an extraordinary show!

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