The notion of Nashville being an intimidating place to play often becomes lost in the fray of various tribute nights and whiskey jams that feature countless new and unfamiliar faces taking stages with distinct confidence and bravado, living within the bubble of the Nashville music community. There’s almost always a built in audience of friends and contemporaries that are bound to show up whether the tribute is for Conway Twitty or Taylor Swift. Such a scenario makes Nashville a beautiful and unique thing, but at the same time, distorts the views of those within the proverbial bubble as mellifluous and fraternal, while those outside of Nashville – the touring artists of note from the West Coast, East Coast, Canada, etc. can find themselves approaching a seemingly perilous locale of paid players, session singers, and songwriters all looking for someone to condescend toward.
Nick Waterhouse alluded to much of the aforementioned scenario in a single moment amidst his blistering 20 song set at Mercy Lounge this past Tuesday, December 6th – “There were only a few cities that I was ever afraid of playing – and Nashville was always one. Nashville is a scary place because I feel like there are so many better guitar players and singers here than me, but y’all seem like you’re having fun, so I feel like I’ve achieved something tonight.” Then an extremely enthusiastic young woman replied with “They don’t play the way you do, baby,” and within an instant Waterhouse and his condensed band dropped right into “(If) You Want Trouble” off his first LP, Time’s All Gone.
Speaking of time, Waterhouse and his accompanying four piece made fantastic time of their aforementioned sprint of a 20-song set, rolling out onto the stage with little more than a “Hey Nashville,” and opening into his second album’s opener, “High Tiding.” After a couple of “throwbacks” (kind of funny to reference Waterhouse’s songs as “throwbacks” considering his entire sound is, for lack of a better term, “throwback”), Waterhouse took brief moment to preface “It’s Time” off his most recent LP, Never Twice – “I wrote this song for a bunch of British teenagers and it never quite worked out – so I stole it back.” Who were the British teenagers? One can’t be too sure, but there are only a handful of teenaged British groups that might benefit from Waterhouse’s writing proclivities, but that’s neither here nor there.
Waterhouse approached the live set with slight, yet defined sort of intensity that behooved the audience to pay attention (a welcomed attentiveness, mind you) to the prowess of Waterhouse’s band – Eric Jackowitz on drums, Elia Thane on bass, and Jelani Brooks holding it down on the brass and woodwinds – despite being two members short due to what Waterhouse described as “some of the other members had to leave because they were much like this next song. Its called “Dead Room.” Waterhouse is an entertaining and quick-witted front man with as slightly warped penchant for self deprecation (or so it seems) that really made for an excellent give and take between Waterhouse and the increasingly loose crowd, who were initially reserved, but as time passed, things swung in the right direction following “Straight Love Affair,” for which Waterhouse described as being “for the dancers, if there are any out there.”
Dancers there were, as Waterhouse had just barely begun to broach the half waypoint of his set, still running with as much precision halfway through the set that most acts would struggle to maintain through three songs, much less twenty. Waterhouse never trailed off with the sharp quips in lieu of vacuous banter – preceding “Sleeping Pills,” Waterhouse informed his audience that the song had been written for a friend who’s not a friend anymore – and tight musicianship through and through.
So while Waterhouse may have expressed trepidations about performing Nashville at one point, they never showed at any point throughout what had to be one of the tightest sets at Mercy Lounge this past year. Waterhouse definitely has chops to play in Nashville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, wherever he may please, and if he’s rolling through your town any time soon, get out and see the man and his band, because they put on one hell of a show.