MANHATTAN, NY—Nick Waterhouse was born in Santa Ana, California, and raised in Huntington Beach, California, the son of a fireman and a saleswoman. He learned to play guitar at age 12, and as a young teen gravitated to soul, blues and jazz crossover artists. While in high school, Waterhouse wrote, sang and played guitar with local bands in the Orange County underground music scene. After enrolling in the state university in San Francisco to study film theory, Waterhouse began playing soul music as a disc jockey, performed in local bands and recorded a few studio sessions. With the release of his debut album, he relocated south again to Los Angeles in 2012. His second album, Holly, was released March 4.
At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Waterhouse revived a brand of soul music that pre-dated Motown. Waterhouse borrowed from the soul music epoch that thrived under the radar before Berry Gordy polished it for mass consumption. With an aura of humility, Waterhouse sang honestly, not like he was trying to make an impression, and his musical arrangements were similarly focused on what the band could create as a robust unit.
Save for the advantageous benefits of professional practice space and road experience, Waterhouse’s band sounded very much like the combos that played high school dances circa 1960. Waterhouse sang naturally in the unpresumptuous style of Solomon Burke, Bobby “Blue” Bland and many other soul singers of that era. Stepping back from his microphone, Waterhouse wailed on his sunburst, hollow-bodied electric guitar like a Chicago blues man, alternating harmonic chords with rapid solos. He then retreated to let his organist, horn section or backup singers shine. The retro-soul sound was lean, propulsive and dazzling.
Early in the set, Waterhouse’s songs were of the sensitive singer-songwriter ilk, made larger by the horns and backing vocalists. As the show progressed, the songs increasingly turned into longer and longer party jams, as the band grooved, Waterhouse interjected croons and howls, and the audience danced in place. Waterhouse took a vintage sound and twisted it enough to reinvent the sound and reinvent himself along the way. The neo-soul movement has a new full-tilt member in Nick Waterhouse.