Lollapalooza 2008 Day 3: Nicole Atkins and the Sea
I'm starting to think that if I did nothing but watch the side stages at Lollapalooza, I'd enjoy myself more.
At the start of her set, Nicole Atkins – dressed in a shimmery, knee-high blue dress, black leggings and boots – is playing to a small crowd, leading me to think the big publicity push behind her isn’t working. And little wonder, since it's making her seem like little more than the second coming of Jenny Lewis. But unlike Lewis–who often plays the damsel-in-distress–Atkins is an open book, combining heartbreak with a combat-boot attitude, the kind of no-bullshit artist whose onstage banter goes like this: “It’s hot as balls today. By the way, my parents are here…” and “Pump your fist, air those pits!” Jersey represent!
Without her casual self-deprecation, a set of songs about long-away loves could quickly become tiresome. While it’s accessible, there is a complexity to Atkins’s music, sneaking up on you with David Hollinghurst’s guitar, which goes from a noir-ish creep to a tortured solo, as if it’s the soundtrack to a shuttle launch. Mixing a classic rock bombast with the tightness of 60s girl group pop – complete with glockenspiel and vaudeville piano - the Sea gives Atkins’s heartsick, Dusty-Springfield-belters a Shirley Manson paranoia.
Her shag haircut framing her face, Atkins asks her man “Why are you so mean?” and bemoans the oncoming metaphorical rain before promising that she’ll wait forever “but I can’t stop time.” She’s not flashy, but has charisma in spades, which quickly warms up the crowd, and draws in more stragglers from the far north and south fields. Her set winds down with her best song “Maybe Tonight” then gets torchy like a less-wacked-out Julee Cruise: “My love is not the one I want…you’re the one I need.”
Atkins & The Sea even manage to liven up a set-ending cover of “Crystal Ship” by The Doors, which she says will be on the forthcoming EP, Nicole Atkins and The Sea Dig Other People’s Tunes. It gets the biggest applause of her set, suggesting that Atkins is all the publicity she needs to break wide.