This was a tough decision: Juniper Tar played Turner Hall, and XYZ Affair (fronted by ILL Groove Movement) was at Stonefly. In the end it was the bombastic video of Nicole Atkins performing her hit “The Way It Is” on Letterman (watch it on YouTube ) that helped me decide to trek out to Bay View and watch Atkins with her band (called the Sea) at the Cactus Club. I got there at 11 p.m., just in time to catch Testa Rosa set the atmosphere. Betty Blexrud-Strigens admitted she was kind of nervous afterward, but it was totally enjoyable set.
Although Nicole Atkins and the Sea started their show at midnight, it was worth the wait. Surprisingly, Atkins was a tiny singer with musical chops — her voice was full and clear, like a bell, but she could belt notes out effortlessly. She was a cross between Liza Minelli and Hope Sandoval, and her songs were updated takes classic torch and ’60s pop genres. It didn’t seem like she was just a frontwoman, either: her whole band — which included a lapsteel player and a stellar keyboardist — was singing along to ALL the songs, like it was pure joy to perform with her.
It was pure joy to watch, as well. She did the stage banter without being forced or fake (she also said she was lethargic from eating a Palomino “Velvet Elvis.”) It was a really great show. AfterÂ “Neptune City,” her last song,Â she told an audience member that there was no encore because her throat killing her. No one in the audience could tell at all. Highlights of the show included “The Way It Is,” of course, and “Headlights” (which, if I remember correctly is a new song) and “Brooklyn’s On Fire” which also has a happy gang-chorus singalong.
I was going to ask her a few questions after the show but she was accosted by a gaggle of fans. Two of whom, I overheard, saw her live at the Letterman show in October as well — except they had seen her in the actual studio, instead of on YouTube.