The First Unitarian Church is a rather unique spot for music in the greater Philadelphia area. Of the countless number of venues floating near Center City it is the most reserved in appearance but notorious in cultivating a superb helping of local and national based music. Having been to this venue several times for punk-based shows you would never think that this dingy, banquet room with several low ceiling fans and hardly any AC could be turned into the hippest lounge this side of the Delaware. Los Angeles based rhythm and blues artist Nick Waterhouse achieved just that when he graced the Church’s small wooden stage this past Saturday night in support of his latest record, Holly, which hits stores this week.
Taking to the stage a little before 9:30 the hour long set began with the tribal-like drumming of “Indian Love Call” which crawled its way through Waterhouse’s cool as cats guitar work and Howlin’ Wolf style vocals. For a man who hasn’t even hit 30 he oozes the experience and presence of a seasoned veteran playing the part of his brand of music very well. However, he would be nothing without the impressive skills of his backing band, the Tarots who supply a tight sound that mimics their records greatly. Fan favorites like “Say I Wanna Know” and “Raina” strut with swagger thanks to pristine percussion work, a backing vocalist with a towering voice, and a female baritone sax player that wales to a constant round of applause and the distant cat calling.
On his website Waterhouse states that “his art comes from a simple notion that everyone wants to be somebody else.” That can be said for the average concert goer just as much as it does for the act you are paying to see. For a straight-laced, no frills hour long set the First Unitarian was, in my mind, encompassed in a sea of smokers, classy gentleman and ladies looking to move and tilt till the sun comes up. A humble helping of American rhythm and blues turned a room comprised of hipsters, retro seekers, and 45 & olders into a crazy crowd of head boppers and hip shakers. Even the most conservative of patrons tapped a foot or even rattled their jewelry displaying a sign of enthusiasm no matter how minimal it seemed.
What was unanimous is that there was no rhyme or reason to the people attending to the show other than a mutual love for retro glazed, early 60s rockers and Waterhouse and the Tarots supply that in spades. Everything about the band’s presence comes from the music allowing the audience to make the decisions on how they wish to express their adoration to the style. Favorites from his first record, 2012’s Times All Gone were met with instant jumping for joy but so were many of the newer numbers off his latest record, Holly such as the finger snapping “This is A Game” and the blistering title track. Beyond his own work he incorporated a few covers including one by friend and fellow musician Ty Segall, who allowed Waterhouse to feature his track “It No. 3” on his new record and later for the encore a rollicking cover of the Seeds’ 1965 single “Pushin’ Too Hard.”
Despite two albums worth of material to choose from the performance felt too short for its own good and that mainly comes down to the length of most of the tracks. With the high energy from the audience and the overall showstopping tightness of the band’s sound it was disappointing to be back out on the Schuylkill Expressway by 10:30, too early in my eyes to be heading back home on a Saturday night. Still, the bang for the buck was there and Nick Waterhouse’s ability to keep his audience moving song after song says that he has the ability to keep his audience coming back for more each time.