Yeah, I’m a novice. Nicole Atkins is one of those dark, smoldering ingenues who converts humans into disciples with no more than a fiery glance. During her live shows these humans, guys and gals alike, swoon in measured droves, pray for their favorite songs and stand mystified, religiously mystified, as Ms. Atkins seduces the stage.
Along with her faithful backing band, The Black Sea, Atkins played a full room at the South Side’s Club Cafe Tuesday evening as the concert spot’s smokey corners and starry backdrop played a perfect supporting character (with the exception of a blown out monitor) to the bombastic qualities of Atkins best work (the street anthems, symphonies, and Patsy Cline homages alike) that were allowed to howl unmitigated into the rainy Pittsburgh evening.
Atkins and co. soared through the highlights of 2007’s Neptune City, including a seriously red-blooded version of “Brooklyn’s on Fire” that incited more than a handful of fist pumps during the shit-kicking refrain. The honest, innocent shuffle of “Maybe Tonight” translated beautifully as well, as the classic chorus (which, again, resembles something like a unearthed Patsy Cline croon) floated sagaciously toward the heavens.
Even “The Way It Is,” a song that was showcased in all its theatrical glory during an unforgettable performance on David Letterman, was given fantastic treatment due to Atkins unbelievable vocals. I was convinced that without a chorus of swelling strings, the song would be a shadow of its former self, but it actually provided more room for Atkins to flex her voice and emote passionately to the crowd.
After the debut of a handful of new tracks, whetting the crowds appetite for Atkins ensuing 2010 release, an encore of the funeral stomp “Neptune City” provided a fragile and tragic coda. The show ended with a base drum wash and Atkins’ enacting a graceful curtsy, head bowed, to a heavy applause. I shook my head, swigged the last inch of my las beer, thought of October and the coming Halloween as I looked to a friend of mine who took the words right out of my mouth : “That shit is haunting.”