By John Curley
The concert by the New Jersey-based singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City that took place on Friday, August 9th was originally scheduled for February 8th but was postponed due to a snowstorm that made traveling dangerous. It was worth the wait. Atkins, always a very engaging performer, was really on her game at the Rubin Museum of Art show. Her performance was terrific.
Atkins’ show at the Rubin Museum of Art was part of the museum’s singer-songwriter concert series called Naked Soul. The Naked Soul shows are completely acoustic and unplugged. No microphones or amplifiers are used. Atkins took full advantage of that. The acoustics of the venue really made her soaring vocals shine. Since she didn’t have to stand in front of a microphone to sing, Atkins was all over the stage during the performance. At certain points, she sat. At other times, she walked or danced a bit around the stage. The show even took on a performance-art feel during the new song “Worst Hangover” when Atkins ended the song by feigning death by falling to her knees and then collapsing onto the stage.
Accompanied on piano and backing vocals by her longtime sideman Dan Chen, Atkins, who played acoustic guitar for one song, made the venue a showcase for her incredible voice. During her 65-minute set, Atkins performed familiar songs from both of her albums as well as new songs from her forthcoming third album that is tentatively due for release in January. In line with the casual atmosphere of the show, Atkins performed barefoot and wore loose-fitting clothes. She joked that the clothes were her sleepwear because the show had the feel of a slumber party.
Since the show was being held in an art museum, Atkins incorporated some slides of artwork from the museum into her performance. As the slides were projected onto the back wall of the stage, Atkins talked about how she felt each piece related to themes in the songs that she was going to perform. Her comments were quite interesting and often laugh-out-loud funny. Atkins speaks to the crowd quite often at her shows, which is great because it helps explain the stories behind the songs and draws the audience in.
The show was packed with outstanding performances. Atkins opened the show with excellent takes on “Maybe Tonight” and “The Way It Is,” both from her first album. Those performances set the tone for the night because the songs were considerably reworked due to the all-acoustic environment but still maintained all of their power. Atkins’ vocal on “Maybe Tonight” was breathtaking. Of the new songs performed, “This Country Was,” “Red Ropes,” and “Above As Below” were standouts. Prior to performing “War Torn,” Atkins told the audience that the song is about the time that her college boyfriend had to return to Australia. Atkins closed out the show with powerhouse performances of “The Tower” and “Neptune City.”
The highlight of the show was Atkins’ cover of The Beach Boys’ “Cuddle Up.” The song was written by Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys and Daryl Dragon from The Captain and Tennille. Atkins’ performance of the song was really beautiful and it received sustained applause from the crowd afterward. Here’s hoping that Atkins records the song for release.
After the show ended, Atkins sat on the edge of the stage and did not leave until everyone that wanted to talk to her, have their photo taken with her, or get an autograph was able to do so. It would be nice if every recording artist were so gracious. Kudos to Atkins for doing that.
Additional information about the Rubin Museum of Art’s Naked Soul singer-songwriter concert series can be found at www.rmanyc.org/nakedsoul. Performances take place on Fridays at 7:00 p.m. The museum is located in New York City’s Chelsea section at 150 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011.
The setlist was as follows:
The Way It Is
This Country Was
Cuddle Up (cover of song by The Beach Boys)
Above As Below