Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ, August 4th 2012
As CoolMom and I walked by The Stone Pony on our way to a pre-show dinner with friends last night, I heard someone behind us say, "The Stone Pony? What is this place? What do they do here?" My heart hurt a little.
I soon got over it, though. We enjoyed a great outdoor meal on the boardwalk on a surprisingly comfortable, early-August evening. A couple of weeks ago, I'd won free tickets to see Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea at their annual homecoming show in Asbury Park, and right after our dinner we made our way over to the venue.
Turned out that my name wasn't on the list, but I told the woman in the box office my story and she waved CoolMom and me through. We arrived just as opener James Wells was packing up his set. The place was virtually empty at this point, and our friends had never been to the place before; so we took a few moments to check out the guitars and posters lining the walls.
Luke Rathborne and his band were up next. They also played to a relatively empty house, but the folks who came late really missed something. Even with the small crowd, Rathborne played a high-energy set of power pop that CoolMom and I really enjoyed.
Nicole Atkins and her band, The Black Sea, took the stage right after 10 p.m. By this time, the crowd had grown. Atkins went right into "Maybe Tonight" from her excellent debut album, Neptune City. She followed that with "Brooklyn's On Fire!" a nice audience singalong number from the same record. Throughout the evening, Atkins acknowledged several familiar faces in the audience, and it was obvious that she was comfortable being back on her home turf. "Where's my family?" she asked at one point, followed by, "There's one. There's one..." She obviously had some loyal fans in the audience. Several people, ranging in age from tweens to folks much older than I am, danced and sang almost every lyric all night.
Atkins also premiered several new songs from an upcoming record, saying that this was the first time she'd ever played them with a full band. I'm not sure if it was the setting, because this can be said of the whole performance, but most of the new songs had a much rockier feel than her past work. Among the new stuff, the one that stands out for me is one I think is called "It's Only Chemistry."
Nicole Atkins has a beautiful, loud, powerful, rangy voice that she used to full effect last night. In contrast to someone like Neko Case who rears back, feet planted on the stage, and blows you away with the sheer physicality of her voice, Atkins is constant motion, using her eyes and her hands to add layers of emotion to each song. On "The Way It Is" and on Mondo Amore track, "The Tower," Atkins took full advantage of the chance to show the whole place what she's capable of live.
I think I saw an interview somewhere in which Atkins, a Neptune City native, said that she's been playing The Stone Pony since the age of around 14. In this piece from the Star Ledger's Jersey Impact blog, Atkins says, “I guess if you’re somebody that could travel anywhere in the world to see me play, you should come see me play here.” She owned the place last night.
What do they do at The Stone Pony? Probably a lot of things. But on a night like last night, anyway, they give you a chance to see that the Jersey Shore is still producing some great music.