David Nail could sing the phone book for an hour and a half and people would listen. That’s how good the Missouri native’s voice is. With a voice as smooth as molasses, there’s an aura of mysteriousness coated in his Midwest drawl combined with his humble stage presence, and dry sense of humor. Whereas many singers currently focus on elaborate stage setups, ornate outfits and costume changes, Nail focuses on the music, which speaks for itself. The simple stage setup and Nail’s brief, but grateful stage banter put his music front and center, where it should be in the live setting, a privilege others don’t have simply because their material simply isn’t as strong. Nail brought his “I’m A Fire” tour to Irving Plaza, on Sunday, November 9th.
After the release of his third album, “I’m a Fire” in March of this year, Nail made no secret of his ongoing battle with depression, and spoke about his desire to move away from his image as a singer of piano-driven ballads. His change in outlook and move towards optimism was inspired by his wife, Catherine, and this newfound look on life was no better showcased than on the album’s title track, which opened Nail’s set. The song, co-written by award-winning tunesmith Tom Douglas is an ode to Catherine, with lyrics such as “You put the beat in my heart, you put the smile on my face, you put the color in my sky” showing his fresh outlook on life. “Easy Love,” also off the new record, which Nail commented he wrote with his wife in mind also displayed his positivity, and even gorgeous break-up ballad “Broke My Heart” had a sense of hope associated with its pining for the past.
While the evening served as a great introduction to some of Nail’s new music, that is not to say that his previous two albums, 2009’s “I’m About to Come Alive,” and 2011’s brilliant “The Sound of A Million Dreams” were ignored. The nostalgic “Again” and “This Time Around,” both co-written by Nail, were effective reminders of both his early music and his writing capabilities.
Nail’s radio singles, although fantastic showcases of vocal prowess and lyrical interpretation, haven’t all been met with chart success – see the stop-in-your-tracks “The Sound of a Million Dreams – so there is the inevitable challenge of pacing a headlining concert as to not lose some fans who may only know one’s biggest hits. Nail, however, is a master at forming a setlist, structuring it around his hits, and including album cuts around the more familiar tunes. Early on came Nail’s first major hit, “Red Light,” prompting an audience sing-a-long, and later on was the one-two punch of current single “Kiss You Tonight” and first number-one single “Let It Rain.”
One of Nail’s most admirable qualities as a vocalist is that of his ability to effortlessly paint a picture with words. On the shimmering, pristine “She Rides Away,” Nail painted a vivid image of a woman “riding away on the edge of no tomorrow in a rusty El Camino” that was emblazoned in the minds of the packed audience.
Nail’s talented backing band – composed of Adam Stark on guitar, Blaine Reedy on bass, Reed Pittman on keys and Hubert Payne on drums – was also given ample opportunities to flex its muscles, on their rousing cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” One couldn’t help but feel the irony in the room – while Nail is certainly a country singer first and foremost, he is far from the most traditional minded artist, and the cover was a welcome addition to the show. Nail did not speak excessively during the show, but when he did, he exemplified the importance and significance of playing New York City, and what it meant to him, coming from a small town in Missouri, via Nashville, to play the Big Apple.
Beginning his encore by quietly playing the hook to “Whatever She’s Got,” Nail had the crowd in the palm of his hand, before closing his show with the bluesy, funky “Grandpa’s Farm,” which put his immaculate vocals on full display. The former, which for many, functioned as their introduction to Nail, developed into an entire crowd-sing-along, and while not as strong lyrically as most of Nail’s deeper material, has an irresistible hook and helped to establish his niche on country radio.
Playing New York City on an annual basis over the past few years, from opening for Lady Antebellum at the Beacon Theatre, to various small venues across Lower Manhattan, Nail has developed a following that gets bigger and bigger on each visit. And with “Kiss You Tonight” making inroads at country radio, Nail will only continue to make the ascent across the breadth of NYC venues in the months and years to come.
1. I’m a Fire
2. Countin’ Cars
3. She Rides Away
4. Red Light
5. This Time Around
6. I’m About to Come Alive
7. Easy Love
8. Broke My Heart
9. Kiss You Tonight
10. Let It Rain
11. Fix You (Coldplay Cover)
13. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way (Waylon Jennings Cover)
14. Interstate (Randy Rogers Band Cover)
15. Whatever She’s Got
16. Grandpa’s Farm
By Matthew Waga