In New York City, it’s common for Broadway stars to do small, intimate shows for upper crust elderly women from the Upper East Side. I once got discounted tickets to one of these events (Michael Feinstein‘s show at The Regency), and was surprised by hooting, hollering, and general frenzy of the small crowd, which I was reminded of by the similar atmosphere of Nikka Costa’s Teragram Ballroom show. I walked in expecting a boozy, laid-back night of strings and left wondering where the afterparty was.
Nikka Costa’s career is a true Hollywood story, from her start as a child star recording a single with Hawaiian singer Don Ho to getting a big break when her song “Like A Feather” was featured in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial. Nikka has come a long way since then, producing several albums and starting a family; she recently took a two-year hiatus to concentrate on raising her two children. Her new album Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between trades in her usual funk for more sensual, laid back faire.
The Teragram Ballroom is a sexy venue in itself. As you enter, you’re greeted with lush, textured wallpaper and dim lights. The string section was just setting up when we entered the performance space; the gentle tuning of the instruments melted into the beginning of “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Nikka’s voice entered dramatically from offstage in that distinctive, careening tenor that’s sure to excite a crowd; as she came onstage she transitioned the intro into hit single “Like A Feather.” It was instantaneously clear that this was a gathering of Costa fans.
“It’s all about the strings,” Nikka cooed as she gave us some background on the album. Nikka and the band just finished an unofficial residency at The Largo in West Hollywood. It was through those performances that the album started to take shape. Nikka bragged that the process was so smooth that the album was recorded in one day. Although the album is mostly comprised of covers like Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and the classic standard “Stormy Weather,” there are a few new songs that made the cut. “Arms Around You” was written after a friend of Nikka’s passed; the performance was particularly moving, with Nikka telling the audience to “tell people you have now that you love them.”
Nikka is adept at working an audience, and clearly enjoyed the rowdy one she got. The show was sprinkled with winks. After an audience member asked what was in her drink, she answered “Ginger and honey and water. No chaser.” When Nikka entertained the idea of taking requests, the audience got loud and belligerent, causing her to giggle “I started a riot.” The music undulated between standards and Nikka’s more funk-driven offerings. After she performed “Everybody’s Got That Something” to much applause, she teased, “Don’t make me do another funk record now!” The band matched Costa’s energy note for note, the perfect accompaniment to her theatricality.
The night felt very New York. Whiskey was drunk. Couples fondled each other. Girlfriends bumped butts and shouted lyrics. An encore was demanded and we were pleased to hear Costa’s rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We swayed happily, heads resting on the shoulders of our dates. The night was a success. As I ran toward my Lyft, a woman joked with me that they took down Costa’s name before she could get a shot of the marquee. Los Angeles moves fast, but with nights like this in the bag, Nikka Costa is bound to be performing on the regular for long time.
Nikka Costa’s new album Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between is out now. Get it HERE.
Ashley Prillaman is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. When she's not living that #FestivalLife, you can find her walking her dogs, listening to This American Life, or chowing down on street tacos. Follow @AshleyPrillaman on Twitter & check out her interview series #LetsTellAStory on her blog www.ashleyprillaman.com.