Valentine's Day was this past Friday, and it was a special occasion for the California country rock band Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers. They performed a show at New York City's Bowery Ballroom for a crowd of about 500 people, some of them long time fans. It was obvious that everyone was in positive spirits and excited to share this special day with Nicki and the boys. The 17-song set featured songs from their 2013 self-titled album, 2011's Driftwood, and two covers. Tonight's lineup consisted of Nicki Bluhm on vocals, her husband Tim Bluhm, on keys / guitars / vocals, Deren Ney on lead guitar / vocals, Dave Mulligan on rhythm guitar, Mike Curry on drums, and Reed Mathis, of Tea Leaf Green, filling in on bass for Steve Adams.
The band kicked off the night with a tune titled "Jetplane." It started off with Tim's acoustic playing, and by the end, they transformed it into a high energy song. Right away we got a taste of Deren Ney's precise solo licks and Nicki's impressive vocal range. It really set the mood and allowed the fans coming in from the downstairs bar to find a spot in the upstairs room and enjoy the show.
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers "Jetplane"
Nicki briefly commented that New Yorkers seem to have that edge about them. Since her parents were born in New York City, she playfully said that she must have been born with that edge also. For the next song, they went into "Hey Stranger." It was a bit folky, a bit country, and driven by Tim and Dave on acoustic guitars.
After playing a song Dave Mulligan wrote for the band titled "Go, Go, Go", Nicki cheerfully said to the crowd, "We made it!" The band had to cancel previous shows in Baltimore and Philadelphia due to a snowstorm, so tonight they were excited to be on stage and perform.
The fourth song of the night, "I'm Your Woman," was a short pop diddy that segued into the lyrically amusing tune "Stick With Me" that had a very rodeo feel to it. This high energy tune got the crowd pumped up and I saw a few couples in the crowd grab and twirl each other around. Tim assumed the majority of the vocal duties and was joined by Nicki during the chorus parts. This was a great example of how well Tim and Nicki's voices blend together and add a special ingredient into a song.
Nicki joked with the crowd a little bit and threw some candy hearts into the crowd, then asked everyone to grab their squeeze and cuddle up as they went into a cover of Bruce Channel's song, "Hey Baby." They had recorded this song for their second van session so it was a treat to hear them perform it live. The crowd was at its loudest of the night as they sang along and participated until the end. It was obvious Nicki enjoyed it as well, commenting that she felt like she practiced the song with us.
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers "Hey Baby"
The song "I Wanna Go Home" had a very Fleetwood Mac-ish style to it that was highlighted halfway through with a trippy breakdown that really mellowed out the crowd. When it reached its conclusion, Nicki and the gang surprised nearly everyone by going into the Jefferson Airplane hit "Somebody To Love." It was a perfect song choice, and the crowd burst out with cheers and sang along.
The show shifted back to a more energetic mood when the band broke into "Another Rolling Stone." Fittingly, it had a very Rolling Stones groove to it. It was perfectly placed into the setlist as the room's energy was high. The band ended the set with "Little Too Late" and "Burnt," with the latter featuring Tim's skillful organ playing and Deren providing some creative riffs through his wah-wah pedal.
The audience would not let the band finish without coming out for an encore, and thankfully we got two more songs. Nicki shared another story with us, this one about her and Tim going out earlier in the day and having a steak dinner. The fact that Nicki and Tim are married really puts their songs in perspective and gives the lyrics more emotional weight. A perfect example of this was the next song "Think About The Two Of Us." They performed it as a duet and it proudly displayed their love for one another. It was evident in the lyrics, their facial expressions, and the emotion they put into singing it. It was a touching highlight of the night that had some people in tears.
Nicki and Tim Bluhm "Think About The Two Of Us"
The show ended with the band playing "Kill You To Call," a song off their 2011 release, Driftwood. Nicki let loose whatever energy she had left in the tank and sang her soul out. Deren and Mike did the same as they fed off each other's energy while playing and brought the song to a frenzied climax.
This was my second time seeing Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, and both times were at this venue. To watch the chemistry they share while playing is something magical that you don't see in many bands nowadays. The band has been performing together since 2008, and while they have not yet reached major festival headliner status, they are now beginning to sell out smaller venues. If they keep going along their current path, I would not be surprised to see them billed as major acts on the summer festival circuit soon.
The band has a couple of more East Coast dates before going back out West until May. Check out their Zumic artist page for more info. More pictures from the performance are below.