Concert Review: Nicole Atkins

Words by Bill Bodkin | Photos by Patrick Brady

Welcome to our first concert review blog. On Wednesday, Nov. 25, myself, photographer Pat Brady and B&B co-founder Brent Johnson braved the weather and Thanksgiving traffic to check out Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.

Opener No. 1: The night opened up around 8 with The Nouvellas a New York indie group that a critic described as “Dusty Springfield backed by The Yardbirds.” I agree. They were a talented dual-female-fronted band. But the guitar work (very Yardbirdsian indeed) was the most interesting aspect of their band.

Opener No. 2: River City Extension followed The Nouvellas. Hailing from Toms River, N.J., River City Extension is a high-energy folk band who sounded and performed exactly how they looked: indie, sweaty and unique. What impressed me the most was their seemingly undying love for their music and the absolute endless energy they performed with. Definitely have to love a band who brings everything they have to a concert.

The Main Event: Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea The Neptune, N.J., native took the stage a little after 10 p.m. and gave an absolute dynamite performance. Combining songs from her first album, Neptune City, her covers album Nicole Atkins Digs Other People’s Music, and some new material, this Jersey Shore chanteuse performed with the confident swagger of a rock star. This was her night to shine, and no matter how many guitars slipped off their stands, how many monitors blew or ear shattering feedback spikes were heard, Nicole Atkins came, saw and conquered The Stone Pony.

For those unfamiliar with Atkins, she’s a singer/songwriter who after years of playing the Jersey Shore bar scene and the Brooklyn original circuit, was signed to Columbia Records. Rolling Stone named her one of the next big things in music, American Express and Old Navy featured her in ad campaigns and she even performed live on David Letterman. However, after her debut album Neptune City, a record resplendent with dreamy throwback songs that invoked a female Roy Orbison, didn’t go megaton on the Billboard charts, she and the label went their separate ways. She has since regrouped with a new band, The Black Sea, and is in the midst of recording a new album.

I just recently became a fan, as I purchased her music to prepare for an interview with her. I became enthralled with her music — songs that sound like they belong in a David Lynch film. They are infectious and beautifully crafted, so when I was asked to join my photog for the evening, Pat Brady to see her in concert, I was extremely eager to see her perform.

As a fan of harder rock, this usually isn’t the type of music I’m into. However, Atkins’ new band, The Black Sea, certainly brings the rock. While the dreamy and ethereal qualities of Atkins’ songs remain intact (due to her sublime voice) songs like “Brooklyn’s On Fire!” get the ampage turned up. Subtle metal horns can be thrown in the air and heads can definitely be bobbed to any number of the band’s songs. This was not some indie-chick music fest, this was rock ‘n’ roll, Jersey-style.

And while the rocking did make the concert enjoyable, what stole the show was Atkins’ voice. Her range is fantastic, being able to switch between a pure rock out song to the most heartbreaking of ballads. What amazes me is that with such a long set, nearly 90 minutes, Atkins’ stamina and vocal strength never falter. She belted out powerful notes almost effortlessly while skipping around on stage with intoxicating abandon. Her albums her voice no justice: Nicole Atkins’ voice live will blow you away.

With a magnetic persona, a dynamite voice, beautiful lyrics that encompass heartbreak and hope, Nicole Atkins is someone to watch out for. Her time to shine in the music scene is moments away, so become a fan now, see her in concert and experience seeing a future legend live.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites