By John Curley
First up in the 2014 season of the free outdoor Oval Lawn Series of concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Park was New Jersey’s Nicole Atkins. Her show, which took place on Wednesday, June 18th, was terrific and set a high standard for the rest of the shows in the series to follow.
Atkins is touring behind her most recent album, which is titled Slow Phaser, and the concert was heavy on songs from that album. The show had a casual air to it, with many audience members sitting on blankets on the lawn in front of the stage. Quite a few people at the show were munching on food that was purchased at the Shake Shack, which is located in the park. There was a nice breeze in the park at showtime, which was a relief after the humidity earlier in the day.
Atkins, clad in a long, white, robe-like dress, and her talented four-piece backing band took the stage shortly after 7 p.m. and got things off to a rousing start with an excellent version of the discofied “Who Killed The Moonlight” from the new album. The sound was quite good for an outdoor show. Atkins’ 75-minute set was packed with highlights. Nice versions of “Maybe Tonight” and “The Way It Is” from her debut album, Neptune City, received enthusiastic responses from the crowd. Particular standouts in the set were: the outstanding single “Girl You Look Amazing”; “Red Ropes,” which featured Atkins’ soaring vocals; “It’s Only Chemistry,’ in which Atkins’ powerhouse voice quite capably filled in for the chorus that sings on the studio version; and a truly stunning version of “The Tower” that had Atkins in full-throated roar and sounding like she was channeling Janis Joplin.
It’s been interesting to watch Atkins’ growth as a performer since her first album. At the time that Atkins released Neptune City, she was being referred to as a “female Roy Orbison” quite a bit. She appeared to be somewhat unsure of herself on stage then, and sometimes kind of shy in her comments between songs. Atkins has since grown into an extremely confident performer and seemed like a female Robert Plant at points during the Madison Square Park show in both her gestures and the way that she delivered her vocals. Her remarks between songs were often quite funny. At one point, Atkins opined that she felt like a “rotisserie chicken” under the hot stage lights.
Atkins’ band provided great backing for her vocals. The band features Dave Sherman on keyboards, Dave Heilman on drums, bassist Zach Westfall, and guitarist Dave Rosen. Rosen’s guitar work during “The Tower” was outstanding and added considerably to the power of the song.
Atkins’ live show is definitely one to see. She will be performing throughout the summer in North America, both as a headliner and an opening act for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. For full tour dates and other information on Atkins, go to http://nicoleatkins.com/.
The Oval Lawn Series of free outdoor concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Park (not to be confused with the indoor arena Madison Square Garden) take place on Wednesday evenings this summer. Concert attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket with them as lawn chairs are banned at the shows. Additional information about the concert series can be found at http://www.madisonsquarepark.org/music. Madison Square Park is located between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Manhattan, and runs from East 23rd Street to East 26th Street.
Nicole Atkins’ set list at New York City’s Madison Square Park on Wednesday, June 18th was as follows:
Who Killed The Moonlight?
What Do You Know?
The Way It Is
Girl You Look Amazing
We Wait Too Long
The Worst Hangover
It’s Only Chemistry