Nick Waterhouse at Bimbo’s

10/23/2012

“What is new music?” is an intriguing question that any critic is forced to consider, but particularly when reviewing Nick Waterhouse. The young singer is reclaiming an old style of 50s and 60s soul and blues rock with his debut album, Time’s All Gone.  As we previously mentioned, enjoy his music but “don’t call him a throwback.” In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Waterhouse explained:

“When I was making the record, I was making exactly what I wanted to make,” he says. “It’s not about, ‘You’re into old stuff.’ It’s a matter of taste. It’s a personal statement about my life. I see people playing music indebted to other times and never felt like I fit in with them, because it sounds mannered to me, not as direct. I started thinking about it, too. The only time when I stop thinking is when I’m playing. That’s why I realized I would be OK when I made ‘Some Place.’ It’s more that I felt like I didn’t have any other choice.”

The comparisons arise from Time’s All Gone seeded nostalgia in an era full of swinging rhythms and smokey vocals with femme-fatale backups. Musically, amongst a period of pop music saturated in electronic dance rhythm and processing, Waterhouse seems out of place. His Buddy Holly frame rimmed glasses, high wasted jeans and tucked in button down shirt further accentuate this difference. Waterhouse told us “I see myself as staying true to what moves me” and who can fault him for that.

At this juncture comes the issue of “what is new music,” because while Waterhouse admits he’s doing what moves him, that doesn’t preclude him from being a “throwback” or a “revivalist,” both to which he seems to prefer to distant himself. After moving north to San Francisco he took a job at the all-vinyl Rooky Ricardo’s Records in the Lower Haight District, where he was introduced to the likes of the Marquees, Jackie Shane and Maxine Brow. During this period, he began spinning his new found passion at bars in San Francisco. He became known for this style.

Before his show Saturday night at Bimbo’s, Waterhouse admitted that after moving to San Francisco he walked into the venue and decided he wanted it to be “my city.” The old, historic lounge and nightclub, with its velvet plush decor and candlelit tables framing the dance floor, is the perfect venue for him. Taking the stage after LA rockers, Allah-Las, Waterhouse seemed in his element, thanking his local friends and all the familiar faces for coming out. Without wasting time, backed by a seven piece band he jumped into his hit “Say I Wanna Know.” Compared to the record, the heavier, amplified guitar strumming created a coarser rock tone, whether intentional or not, the differentiation stopped there.

Listening from outside the main room, one might imagine a scene with men wearing skinny ties, girls donning perms and a cloud of smoke looming over the stage. Besides the obvious issues with smoking, that impression wasn’t far off. On stage, the gorgeous backup vocalist wore a tight fitted red dress that hugged her hips as she swayed in a fashion that would make Jessica Rabbit blush. Most of the instrumentalists wore suits and ties. Amongst the diverse crowd of youthful spectators were women wearing loose boat neck shirts, men with fedoras and dancers twisting.

It’s easy to become lost in the jumping brass and swaying drums. Waterhouse’s crooning vocals singing of love, regret and old memories can become hypnotic. Amongst the standout singles, he played a new song called “Sleeping Pills.” The bass ominously crept along, as the backup singer wispily mentioned “I’ve had a dream” and Waterhouse soon followed, “I counted sixteen pill sitting on the desk.” The cool and dark track picked up intensity with the increase punctuating keys.

Walking away it was clear, whether Nick Waterhouse intended for it or not, a scene is forming. Whether it’s new–or per se–a throwback–is for you to decide. Understandably, Waterhouse identifies with this style–as much as Kendrick Lamar identifies with Eminem–it’s a mere reflection of influences, rather than a copy catting of sorts. To this extent, Waterhouse isn’t a revisionist or throwback, but a reflection–on an era of music, unbeknown by most, and certainly worth a spin.