If you want to hear the most angelic sound, listen to Sara Watkins sing “Like New Year’s Day” off her new record Young in All the Wrong Ways, to a quiet, rapt audience. Such a treat was granted on October 5th at Bowery Ballroom where Watkins delivered a stellar live show filled with new songs from this gorgeous album. The slightly shy, quirky Watkins dazzled with a sparkly jacket and a sense of humor, and was deeply humbled by what she referred to as a “congenial” crowd. And though it became clear that many in the audience were devout Nickel Creek fans, her own tunes hypnotized.
Young in All the Wrong Ways is an album about coming into yourself. On it, Watkins beautifully pays homage the people, places and experiences that have filled her already eventful 35 years. And though there’s something undeniably girlish about her, Watkins is a strong, soulful songwriter who can tap into the rawest emotions and mine them for the most relatable material. The album’s title track is one of the year’s best songs – a catchy, moving number about how hard it is to break away from someone and be your own person. It’s about maturing and putting the past behind you. Coupled with her pure, natural voice, it’s heaven.
That voice is no disappointment live. It’s even more thrilling to hear the little nuances when she goes from a sweet, soft high note (“Invisible”), to belting out a gritty rasp that seems to come from a guttural place deep within her (“Move Me”). Watkins isn’t afraid to sound real and imperfect, and that fearlessness makes her performances incredibly personal.
Her openness and inclusivity with the audience was the running theme of the evening, from a whistle-along rendition of Nickel Creek’s “Anthony”, to the on-the-spot version of the band’s “Destination”, which a gutsy fan begged her to play. Armed with nothing but her ukulele, she giddily complied. Later, we all sang along to “Long, Hot Summer Day”, as Watkins accompanied us on her fiddle. We were all in it together, and Watkins began to feel like a close friend, along with her amazing bandmates David Garza and Michael Libramento.
Mostly sharing songs off her new record with gorgeous live versions of “Without a Word” (with harpist opener Mikaela Davis), “Young in All the Wrong Ways” (for which Sarah Jarosz joined in on harmonies), “The Truth Won’t Set Us Free”, “Say So” and “Tenderhearted”, Watkins also slipped in some older songs and a cover or two. Her take on Robert Earl Keen’s “Feelin’ Good Again” soared, and her ode to her grandmother’s gardens and metaphoric life lessons came alive with “Take Up Your Spade”. And by the time she closed with a rockabilly rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Early in the Morning”, we were still feeling the love.