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Thursday, June 14th, 2007

In The Company Of Women

I don’t know who it was that put this bill together – the country-soul Jersey girl and the oh-so English New Wavers – but they either have impeccable taste in music and a commendable disregard for genre pigeonholes… or they just like putting ridiculously good-looking frontwomen on tour together. Either way, they have my thanks.

The Jersey girl in question was one Nicole Atkins, accompanied by her band The Sea. I’d seen her perform at SxSW but not her band – somewhere between Newark and Austin, they got misplaced and she had to perform a truncated set backed by The Parlour Mob as ringers. They did a fine job backing her, I was majorly impressed, but after seeing her on Monday night I understand that I wasn’t seeing a fraction of what she was capable of.

Atkins has an incredible voice – think Loretta Lynn if she sang as much soul, blues and rock as she did country. Rich and heart-rending, powerful without ever oversinging and supremely versatile, Atkins and her band were bale to move from style to style effortlessly and naturally, sounding simultaneously timeless and contemporary. And need I mention that she was completely warm and charming onstage? Or that I was completely bowled over by her show and I went in with pretty high expectations. Simply one of the most astonishing new talents I’ve seen in forever.

I grabbed a copy of her 2006 EP Bleeding Diamonds ($3.98 at Insound – you have no excuse. Get it.) and it’s gorgeous, focusing on the slower, torchier side of her repetoire. But based on the live show and other tracks floating around the internet, her debut full-length Neptune City will incorporate more of the upbeat songs and display more of her Garden State rock influences (I’m talking Springsteen, not Bon Jovi, though Atkins might well dispute that). It’s out July 24 and if she’s touring anywhere near you, go see her. I’m hoping she’ll make it back here (the NxNE listings had her as playing the festival last weekend but apparently they forgot to actually ask her) but in the meantime I’m prepared to head down to Austin for ACL in September to see her. Well her and some others, but definitely her.

But wait, there’s more. She was just the opener and while she set the bar absurdly high, The Long Blondes were up to the task. Though this was their first Canadian show and technically their album Someone To Drive You Home had only been released over here last week, it was obvious from the rabidness of the crowd that most had been living with the record via import since last year and had been waiting for this show for almost as long. I’d only heard some of the singles and wasn’t completely sold but was certainly prepared to buy if the pitch was good. Let’s just say they made an offer I couldn’t refuse.

While they can’t necessarily boast about their musical virtuosity, they kept things simple and effective letting guitarist/chief songwriter Dorian Cox’s words and singer Kate Jackson’s voice and boundless charisma do the rest. Sexy and swaggering in a sheer black pencil skirt, Jackson was a magnetic frontwoman with an arsenal of songs blending pure pop with New Wave stylings with the same sort of inimitably sardonic Englishness that defined their most frequent point of comparison, fellow Sheffield natives Pulp (though to get a little more contemporary, there was more than a little Franz Ferdinand-esque vibe on display). Experienced live (and from maybe four feet from Jackson), the songs which had left me sitting on the fence going in had me dancing just a bit coming out – delivered with such energy and sass, they were irresistable. They kept things short and sweet – not even an hour including onetwo-song encore – but I can’t imagine anyone was disappointed. Either Atkins or the Long Blondes’ sets on their own would have been worth the price of admission. Together, it was one of the best nights of live music you could imagine.

Harp gets to know Atkins a little better, she tells The New York Sun why she hasn’t tried out for American Idol and NPR has got an interview and three-song World Cafe set available to stream. Also check out the Rolling Stone piece from March 2006 that declared her one of “10 Artists To Watch”, one of the magazine’s rare recent instances of getting it exactly right and while we’re going back a bit, there’s an interview with her circa the same period at Village Indian. Pitchfork, meanwhile, solicits a guest list from Blondes drummer Screech Louder and Jackson gives Express an idea of what to expect from their next album.

Photos: The Long Blondes, Nicole Atkins & The Sea @ Lee’s Palace – June 11, 2007
MP3: The Long Blondes – “Once And Never Again”
MP3: Nicole Atkins & The Sea – “The Way It Is”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Bleeding Diamonds”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Carouselle”
Video: The Long Blondes – “Weekend Without Makeup” (YouTube)
Video: The Long Blondes – “Giddy Stratospheres” (YouTube)
Video: The Long Blondes – “Separated By Motorways” (YouTube)
Video: The Long Blondes – “Once And Never Again” (YouTube)
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City” (YouTube)
MySpace: The Long Blondes
MySpace: Nicole Atkins

Cleveland Scene examines the Springsteen-ness of The National.

Asbury Park Press, Denver Westworld and The Washington Post talk to Bloc Party.

UK buzz band (yes, another one) The Fratellis are coming to town for a show at the Mod Club on August 7. Tickets are $20 and go on sale Saturday.

JAM and eye chat with Jenn Grant about her debut album Orchestra Of The Moon. She’s at the Horseshoe tomorrow night.

The Joan As Police Woman show scheduled for July 28 at the Horseshoe appears to have been canceled.

Muzzle Of Bees asks five questions of Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker. I’ve been seeing all the shows that he’s wanted to! Ha ha. Sucker.

The internet is full of lists, many/most of them boring or predictable. So thank goodness for The AV Club and their First Annual Absolute Best Issue.

By : Frank Yang at 8:25 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this post6 Responses.
  1. Glenn says:

    I gave the Long Blondes a shot over the weekend and…I was bored out of my mind. The songs are mediocre and as a live band they’re barely mediocre. Maybe I’m getting old, but I can’t get too pumped up these days for indie rock’s race to the middle.

  2. ryan97ou says:

    have been a big fan of Nicole for a coupel years, good to see her finally getting some coverage. your Loretta description is right on.

  3. modernmod says:

    Frank…you must of been in a hypnotic state by the time the encore came around because it was two songs (Swollen Tattoo and Separate by Motorways) not one.

  4. cigarettejeans says:

    It’s Swallow Tattoo. Someone else must have been hypnotised.

  5. Thierry says:

    It’s to the Long Blondes’ credit (and a testament to the quality of their live performance and Kate Jackson’s stage presence) that they managed to avoid being upstaged by Nicole Atkins – between the lush orchestral sounds that reminded me of Richard Hawley and Bernard Butler productions and her beautiful vocals breaking through the wall of sound like modern Mary Weiss or a downcast Darlene Love, that was breathtaking…

  6. Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea and Cotton Jones at The Horseshoe in Toronto | WAKAZ says:

    […] at The Horseshoe on Saturday night. The familiar being Nicole Atkins, whom despite playing here four times in just eight months, hadn’t been back to visit in over three years and in the interim, […]