Love Train Tour, Pt 2
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
New York, NY
Written by Jon Hecht, Photos by Gina Garcia
I’ve lived in New York City for 6 years now. It’s a city of the interlocking concrete grid, the Great White Way, the screech of subway brakes, and some not-bad dive bars that sometimes have good music. I realize that people who don’t live in this city are probably sick of people living here ranting about how great it is, especially considering how much it’s also what happens when a bunch of exceedingly rude cockroaches all start arguing about who has the best pizza.
But there’s a part of this metropolis that is somehow overlooked, despite all the annoying people talking about how great this overcrowded rat maze is. It’s interwoven by water. I’m obsessed with it. I have a roommate who works with boats, and most of my life is just living vicariously through her. I have a book called Gotham Unbound sitting on my coffee table, tracing the history of the city’s waterways ever since the Dutch came to this swamp. I have on numerous occasions read the Walt Whitman poem, “Mannahatta,” and relished in his version of an old (olde?) New York, when it was a “City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!/City nested in bays! my city!”
I guess that all of this is a roundabout way of saying that I really enjoyed seeing Nikki’s Wives and CeeLo Green on a boat in the Hudson River.
This wasn’t just because they were on a boat. It was pretty damn cool to see the Empire State Building behind Nikki’s Wives singer Nikki Whitehead, lit red-white-and-blue because this was yet another Tuesday in 2016 that was designated “super” by virtue of people voting in primaries. But it was also just cool to see her.
Because Nikki Whitehead is cool. She’s got bright blond hair that shone against the black and starless Manhattan sky. She was dressed professionally, but daringly. She looked like
she was going to a job interview but sort of forgot to wear a shirt when she left the house.
This is how all rock stars should dress.
In concert, the band exudes that feeling, of a professional with something a little dirty. Nikki is the type to lean back on the hull of the boat during an instrumental, flip around the mike in her hand, and wag her finger during sultry verses before belting in the chorus.
And belt she does. She’s got a versatile voice, one that fits well with both the brassy, in-your-face feel of the band’s louder songs, and also works when she decides to sit on a stool and sing more softly. When she does, her pipes almost sound like those of Norah Jones, which is no small compliment, even if you’re not the kind to buy your music at Starbucks. It’s also especially impressive considering how much she sounded way more exciting during most of the set’s upbeat numbers.
On their solidly good debut EP, For E-V-E-R, Nikki and her bandmates (are those the Wives? I hope that’s how they refer to things) are synth heavy and poppy. But in concert there’s a much greater rawness to their sound. Part of this was surely the sound system, since, as I believe I’ve mentioned, we were on a boat. The synths weren’t really audible.
The guitar was only a little better, which was a shame since what I could hear was impressive. Guitarist Dylan Lauzon was working hard, but also doing so in a way that made me wonder if he had to. Not only was he excellent at looking the part of a cool guitarist (as I think I’ve made clear, the whole band was good at looking like they were born to be in a cool band), but he played his axe with a level of effortless skill that only accentuated what the rest of the band was doing. He gave their sound a bluesy crunch that is somewhat surprising (but certainly welcome) considering the band’s much
shinier recorded sound.
The poppy sound of their EP did however shine through with the excellent arena-esque sound of their drumming. Nate Baylor played his drums like he was on the largest stage imaginable, which was strange for a band that wasn’t even standing on an elevated platform in front of the concert-going masses.
But it was also totally right, because on that boat, in the sparkling night before the New York City skyline , they were on a huge stage. And they were playing to a party boat audience, who were milling around the bar ordering overpriced drinks while they looked at the water before Cee-Lo Green (who was headlining the boat show, and was, as expected, the Soul Machine) came on.
This ended up giving Nikki’s Wives a little bit of the vibe of a cruise ship band, because of course they were that in miniature. And while there are a whole pile of hacky jokes involving the word “cabana” I could make about that fact, I mean it here as a compliment. They were a band that came in front of a group of people that were happy to listen to them but not there to do so, and they played with utmost professionalism and yet enough of a hint of rebellious partying to make it feel fun. What more could you ask for?
Except there was more, there was Cee-Lo. He sang with the helium-infused glee one
could expect. He reminded us that his career has been extensive, from “Crazy” to “Fuck You” to “Don’t Cha” (which he wrote! Crazy!) to even back when he was a rapper in Goodie Mob (OK he didn’t really touch on that, but I just wanted to mention that, since I think we often forget). He seemed like he was enjoying the boat. He seemed like he was
enjoying everything. And why shouldn’t he? He’s been around for going on twenty
years as the silliest-voiced chubby guy in sunglasses that America could learn to love.
He didn’t really fit with Nikki’s Wives, but it didn’t matter. It’s not like anyone was going to leave. In the middle of the Hudson River, there’s great music playing.