A Dark Night of Soul at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar
Friday night at the Brookyn Night Bazaar, singer/guitarist Nick Waterhouse didn’t start a song in a major key until his long, menacingly pulsing set was almost over. And at that point, with a laid-back, warmly sunny retro soul groove, he lost the crowd. Apparently they liked his dark, minor-key stuff better, which makes sense considering how much there was of it and well he did it. It was almost funny watching guest Paula Henderson – ordinarily one of the world’s most colorful baritone saxophonists – hanging out way down in the smoky lows, inscrutable behind her red shades, decked out in a matching red dress, channeling luridness even when she wasn’t playing it. Waterhouse brought the regular drummer from his LA band, who has every snazzy retro soul thump and flourish in his fingers and used all of them judiciously, while the guest bassist and keyboardist evoked a shady, 1966-era Detroit soul lounge.
Waterhouse is also a hell of a guitarist, but he’s more about building a mood than he is about flash, firing off a handful of barely chorus-length solos, letting his menacing, reverb-drenched flourishes linger. His vocals have a drawl that draws more on 60s psychedelia than it does the retro soul that springboards his songs. Even when a verse would vamp along on a single chord until the chorus kicked in, there was always something interesting going on: an echoey Rod Argent-style electric piano solo; the organ and sax punching in together; oohs and aahs from the woman singing harmonies. The noir ambience never lifted until late in the show.
The first number sounded like a dark retro psych band like the Allah-Las doing oldschool soul. The second one was like Clairy Browne‘s band covering the 13th Floor Elevators. Another took the riff from Tom Petty’s Breakdown and made purist retro soul out of it. Waterhouse went into ghoulabilly and then a Lynchian bolero later on, followed by the night’s most lurid number, Sleeping Pills, which is probably about suicide but might not be. He also tossed in a couple of covers including an expansively furtive version of the Young-Holt Trio’s Ain’t There Something That Money Can’t Buy, one of several tracks from his new album, Holly. After well over an hour onstage, he and the band encored with a long jam on the Seeds’ Pushin’ Too Hard. That’s a funny song, and that’s how it started out, the drummer hitting on the “one” until he realized after about four minutes that it was just plain overkill. By then the song was going in a darker direction, Waterhouse and the organist pushing it through Stranglers territory on through to the Doors
On one hand, that Waterhouse got the people in the house to respond as energetically as they did was impressive, considering that this was Williamsburg, and that the show was part of a pathetic L Magazine-sponsored imitation of the CMJ indie clusterfuck. On the other, it’s probably safe to say that the crowd who came out for Waterhouse and the clique that goes to see bands like The Pains of Being Bear in Heaven probably don’t talk to each other much.