Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea and Cotton Jones at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangIt was an evening of familiar faces and (slightly) unfamiliar names 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, changed her backing band entirely and renamed them from The Sea to The Black Sea. Nor were support act Cotton Jones strangers locally, having come through a number of times in their old incarnation of Page France and a few times since.
Of the two, Cotton Jones represented the more dramatic break from their former selves. Whereas Page France were a winsome if overly saccharine indie pop outfit, Cotton Jones was the sound of that band grown up and having traded tea parties for whiskey shots. That was applicable to both frontman Michael Nau’s voice, which used to be a nasally sort of thing but was now well and proper raspy, and the band’s songwriting in general, inflected as it now was with blues, soul and assorted Southern accents. Still, it was good to see that he and fellow Page France holdover Whitney McGraw hadn’t forgotten the melodic lessons learned in that band, and I generally enjoyed Cotton Jones’ set more than I ever did anything Page France did, though I have to say that “Somehow To Keep It Going” isn’t really a grand enough song to merit as extended a reading as it got.
The circumstances and significance of Nicole Atkins’ persona and personnel changes are well reflected in her new record Mondo Amore, what with the big orchestral approach of her debut Neptune City having been shelved in favour of something decidedly leaner and meaner. Accordingly, The Black Sea numbered just three plus Atkins in conventional two-guitar, bass and drums setup and the sound they made was even more stripped down than the album.
Their set included the entirety of Mondo Amore as well as some choice selections from Neptune City and a trio of covers that really spoke to the band’s versatility – not many bands can range from Krautrock (Can), country-pop (Cotton Mather) and funk-soul (Marie Queenie Lyons) and sound perfectly natural at all of them. Props especially go to guitarist Irina Yalkowsky, who had lots of room to move and space to fill and did so without getting flashy, though her solo in I believe “The Tower” earned her an ovation – I don’t know the last time I saw that happen.
But it was still Atkins’ show and though she and her bandmates had been plagued with illness over the course of the tour, you couldn’t tell it. Her voice was as strong as it’d ever been, rough and raucous on rockers like “My Baby Don’t Lie” and “This Is For Love” and richly emotive on the torchier numbers like set opener “Heavy Boots” and closer “The Tower”, and between songs, her spirits were high and banter sharp. If the past few years have been tumultuous ones for Atkins, then judging from the record she got out of it, the confidence and charisma she’s carrying and the shows she’s now delivering, they were worthwhile.
Chart also has a review of the show. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Boston Globe and Washington Post have interviews with Atkins while Baeble Music has a Guest Apartment video session. The Colorado Springs Independent has a feature on Cotton Jones.
Photos: Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, Cotton Jones @ The Horseshoe – February 26, 2011
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vitamin C”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Gotta Cheer Up”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Glorylight & Christie”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Somehow To Keep It Going”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Blood Red Sentimental Blues”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Maybe Tonight”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “The Way It Is”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City”
The Wall Street Journal talks to Tom Scharpling, who is directing the new New Jersey-saluting video for Titus Andronicus’ “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”. They play The Horseshoe on April 1.
One of the great music magazines of the ’90s is back in online form – Option, for whom my cousin worked for a while and got me a free subscription, introduced me a tonne of bands that I didn’t realize I’d love until many years later but I’d like to think there was some subliminal effect. Hopefully they will again be a forum for great long-form music writing, and this piece on Yo La Tengo certainly makes it seem so. Welcome back!
And since Toronto is generally hard-up for festivals of late, anything that offers locals the opportunity to hang out en masse getting heat stroke while soundtracked by live music is worth noting – like the return of the sort-of tradition of The Tragically Hip on Canada Day. This year, they’ll be at Downsview Park and be joined by Weezer, Broken Social Scene, Hey Rosetta! and Buck 65. Tickets are $59.50 plus fees and go on sale Friday. The last time I did The Tragically Hip on Canada Day was Molson Park in Barrie back in 1994… oh god. My memories of that show are now old enough to drive.