Live Review: Nicole Atkins at the Bootleg Bar

Photos by Billy Bennight for the LA Beat

Photos by Billy Bennight for the LA Beat

There is a dearth of real talent within the Pop Music world: that is, people who can write and play their own songs. So when someone like Nicole Atkins dropped into my world it was very wanted and extremely desired. Usually, when I’m presented with an opportunity to listen to an artist I have to brace myself for disappointment and guarded reserve. While previewing Nicole’s music from “Slow Phaser” on Sound Cloud and was seduced by melodic nature of the music, while being intoxicated by her clever writing! Although, Nicole isn’t a new comer, Slow Phaser, is her first crowd sourced release where she has had complete creative control through her own Oh, Mercy! record label. I realized after the 8th or 9th listen to this album it wasn’t going to grow stale and it was a keeper. I decided to check the real thing at Bootleg Bar for her Los Angeles performance, one of many stops on her US tour.

I arrived at the Bootleg while Arc Iris was performing their spacey interpretive alty Folk/Pop. Their production sound is similar to Grizzly Bear and more Freak Folk, but musically it’s a little more jaunty at times with a cello drenching the various elements of percussion and keyboards being played, all focusing one’s ear on Jocie Adams’ vocals and the intertwining backup harmonies. Arc Iris held the stage for over a half hour to a rather staid crowd.

Miles Davis House at Trinity Hall at Old Schoo for SXSW 2014lNicole took the poorly lit stage after breakdown and set up to a rather quiet reception to her opening of Vultures. Then Nicole hit them with 3 great songs off of “Slow Phaser”: Who Killed The Moonlight?, Cool People and the hit, Girl You Look Amazing. The band was on it and Nicole was on fire, delivering blistering spot on performances of the songs from the new album and all the audience could do was a smattering of claps mustard through the zombie haze. She broke to visit with the crowd and build rapport. Then Nicole hit them again with amazing energy to power through with We Wait Too Long, What Do You Know? and Gasoline Bride. I asked myself was there a pulse out there?! Besides the crowd being a bunch of entertainment sucking vampires the stage light was completely static with these hideous amber lights. Where was the light show? At least Arc Iris had color to their lighting and the light changed, be it ever so slightly. Was there some kind of energy saving thing going on I was unaware of or pure laziness and lack of imagination from the Bootleg crew. At this point Nicole took matters into her own hands and jumped down into the crowd to mix with the audience and stir up things, but as an after thought she asked the sound guy through the mic if it was okay to do it. Wait a minute, artist now have to ask the establishment permission to make their performance more engaging?! I was flummoxed! I couldn’t believe my ears. Nicole continued to close out her set and the crowd became a little more responsive over on the right side facing the stage singing to the song Red Ropes, but honestly, what a bunch of bores! She made a special encore of The Tower with a harpist friend living in Los Angeles. The crowd responded with some cheers and applause but sadly didn’t represent the kind of power and prowess with which Nicole performed at for that evening.

A few weeks later Nicole played at Miles Davis House to a way more receptive and engaged group of folks. They applauded and they cheered Nicole on and sung along to the songs. It was a considerably different experience in Austin. She delivered the goods this time too and the fans responded. By this time Girl You Look Amazing video had been released and Nicole had played something like 7 different show at SXSW alone before opening for Lucinda Williams. Nicole is a performance powerhouse, a total pro and a trooper under the most daunting circumstances. Nicole will be opening for Nick Cave over the next few months if you care to see her. Slow Phaser is a stunning recording that keeps on giving play after play after play!

Miles Davis House at Trinity Hall at Old Schoo for SXSW 2014l

Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer and photographer with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded into exploring many genres of music, with a keen interest in art, fashion, photography, and writing. He shoots celebrity and red-carpet events for ZUMA Press. He is also a member of the Los Angeles Art Association. His images have been published in The Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, Parade, Wall Street Journal, and French Elle, both Vanity Fair and Vanity Fair Italia. He's very engaged in life. You an see more of his work at ZUMA Press at You can follow him on his Facebook page at: and on Instagram and Twitter @billybennight
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2 Responses to Live Review: Nicole Atkins at the Bootleg Bar

  1. SonofItto says:

    Billy, I was at the show and just wanted to clarify that she didn’t have to “ask the establishment permission” to come out in to the crowd, she was just asking the engineer if it was going to create any wild feedback if she moved in front of the sound system. I’m a sound engineer myself and as non-punk as it may have seemed I thought it was actually pretty considerate for an artist to both the venue and the audience but each to their own.

    Fantastic artist either way.

    • Since I don’t know specifically where the people who run the show hang out and I know the general direction of where the sound engineer might have been in this case, it’s speculation who she might have been speaking to from what I saw. As a side not, I was a 3rd generation Punk and I know a lot of the 1st generation Punks. “Punks” when they are treated with respect are always thoughtful, or at least, in most cases they are. I know from Chrysta Bell’s performance the people that run the place were up in that area. (As an insight into my thinking as a “Punk” regarding the term “Punk”, I’m not into or very moved by the term “Punk” now that it’s a form of marketing. In other words “Punk” is contentless at this point in history. So saying “Punk” this and “Punk” that has no real meaning with the exception of it being a buzz word to get things, supposedly, more exciting. Lastly, I don’t know if you are a sound engineer or not, but it’s was nice of you to comment.) Nicole is a superior performer and this performance was delivered with great energy and professionalism. My perspective of the event was there were a lot of people there checking her out: they were not fans. There was a hand full of people there, who were her fans and knew her material: they were engaged. I’ve attended shows from the time that The Bootleg opened, long before the new ownership. But it has changed with the new ownership: there is a different tone from when the establishment began. It’s not a go to distention for music act in my book. Nicole overcame that environment with her performance and her energy!

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