Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nick Waterhouse concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo by Joshua Suddock
My review originally ran in the Orange County Register.

Nick Waterhouse epitomizes cool.

The Huntington Beach native kept the annual Off Center Festival running on high gear Saturday night with a snazzy concert that harked back to a simpler era – a time when coolness had a distinct vibe and music didn’t rely so much on effects.

That became evident when the mild mannered singer/guitarist said he was thankful for having a small black piano available onstage and dryly noted, “We usually have to deal with the trappings of modern technology.”

Held outside the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the show was the first of two free “party on the plaza” events scheduled during the festival. Drawing an audience that ranged from children (who did chalk drawings on the sidewalk or played a giant Jenga game) and men in fedoras to the elderly, there was a distinct family friendly vibe.

Food trucks were busy with long lines, and venue partner Kia displayed one of its vehicles. Most people sat in folding chairs in front of the stage; some brought their own. The wind had decreased, so it didn’t affect the crisp sound quality.

Backed by a five-piece band, Waterhouse and company locked into a tight groove early on with a sumptuous “Dead Room,” punctuated with fast jazz flourishes. It was among several selections from 2014’s “Holly” – a concept album of sorts inspired by film noir titles like “The Big Sleep” and “Chinatown.”

photo by Joshua Suddock
A memorable finger-snapping, reverb-drenched guitar take on the Troggs’ “I Can Only Give You Everything,” complete with doo wop-style female backing vocals, prompted Waterhouse to talk about time spent at the old Distillery studio in Costa Mesa.

The musician also recalled how, as a teenager, he and longtime friend and collaborator Ty Segall had to attend college in San Francisco “just to get out that OC head space. You know what I mean?” An extended version of “It #3,” penned by Segall, gave the band members a chance to stretch out with solos.

Elsewhere, the jaunty sax-driven “(If) You Want Trouble” from the 2012 debut album, “Time’s All Gone,” boasted swelling organ and grittier-than-usual lead vocals. Other standouts included “High Tiding,” the Latin-tinged melody of “Some Place” and a slinky Allah-Las’ “Don’t You Forget It,” in which Waterhouse, totally immersed in his playing, admitted: “My favorite part is I never know how it’s going to end.”

Meanwhile, at the side of the stage, half a dozen couples danced the night away – a sure sign of a successful gig.

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