TVD Live: Nicole Atkins at the Hamilton, 7/10

Nicole Atkins is the kind of performer who is not only bursting with song ideas, she could also go any number of directions in her musical approach, from folk and pop to soul and rock with a little jazz thrown in as well. During the pandemic, she released a jazzy version of her previous Italian Ice as a way to serve fans and keep her career alive when the pandemic prevented touring.

There was a grand piano on the stage at The Hamilton in Washington, DC, where she concluded her latest tour last weekend, but its cover stayed on it; Atkins preferred to rock out the songs’ original versions with her four-piece band, augmented by the occasional backing vocals of Levi, who also served as opening act.

The tiny and mightily-voiced Atkins brings Lea Michele to mind, and if that singer ever tires of her recently announced gig fronting Broadway’s revival of Funny Girl, this versatile vocalist has the spunk and pipes to fulfill it. As if to remind us, she made sure to mention at the end of one of her songs, “AM Gold,” that it had a Barbra Streisand reference in its refrain, “People needin’ people.” But that’s about as close to pop she got in a set that otherwise moved to harder rock and at one point, dance (“Fire up that disco ball if you can,” she called out before “Domino”).

The Jersey girl opened with a tune named after her hometown there, “Neptune City,” but by the end of the show was was taunting onetime neighbor Southside Johnny, whom she called a grump and is apparently in a competition for creating the better “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” anthem. As such, she capped her “In the Splinters” by calling out, “Eat it, Southside Johnny!”

Atkins’ songs are full of nice detail, and there’s real emotion especially behind the ones that reflect on her drinking days, such as “Goodnight Rhonda Lee.” Sobriety allows her to be so busy (she also penned a musical during the pandemic) and keep writing new things. She encored solo with something new, saying “it’s the only way to make it real.” Atkins won’t be off the road long; she’ll be out for an upcoming stint opening for Elvis Costello, who had earlier invited her to sing on his latest release.

Atkins’ opening act, Levi is a young Englishwoman, all legs, who sat on a stool and played shimmery electric guitar backing to her spare and beautifully sung tunes. After the first ballad, she said “I’d like to say it gets better, but it probably won’t.” She was probably talking about the tone and the tempo, which did stay slow and measured, but also  mesmerizing, especially when she ended with an engrossing version of Jacques Brel’s “Ne ne Quitte Pas.”

NICOLE ATKINS SETLIST
Neptune City
AM Gold
Brokedown Luck
A Little Crazy
Maybe Tonight
Goodnight Rhonda Lee
Never Going Home Again
Captain
Mind Eraser
Domino
Cool Enough
In the Splinters
Listen Up
The Way It Is

No One

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