Material: According to Shawn Atkins, his solo career officially began in 2011 when he dared himself to become more than just a “roadie” for touring musicians. After a few brief stints playing live drums for legendary recording artists such as Parliament Funkadelic and Raphael Saadiq, his bold venture culminated in a live vocal performance with George Benson. These experiences undoubtedly contributed to the performer and songwriter that Atkins has become. Hence the name of his upcoming debut EP Becoming Shawn Atkins. Compositions by this multi-instrumentalist typically encompass a mixture of ‘90s R&B, soul, funk and contemporary gospel. It’s a combination that renders an overall sound that is similar to Mint Condition and the Robert Randolph Band. “I Got You” by Atkins is a traditional-sounding R&B track structurally consistent with “Fool for You” by CeeLo Green. This love song was one of the first singles that Atkins has released as a solo artist.
Musicianship: Although Atkins has written and produced original music for a plethora of recording artists, most of the songs that he performs live are covers. The only major distinction between the original songs and Atkins’ renditions are that he typically integrates extra elements of soul and jazz-fusion into the keyboard sections. The Texas native is also the only mainstay in his band, as he usually rotates hired musicians in and out of his lineup.
Performance: Atkins performed eight songs at the Viper Room, with a vocal register that resounded like the tone of D’Wayne Wiggins (from Tony! Toni! Toné!). At the same time, his dancing on stage induced comparisons to soul singers like Big Bub and the late Bobby Byrd (from James Brown’s band). Atkins often improvised with his band, encouraging them to play additional bars so that he could ad-lib with more vocal riffs and runs. Myron McKinley’s jazzy, chromatic piano flourishes strengthened that aspect quite well. The highlight of their interplay was when Atkins sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
Summary: This show was a good display of Shawn Atkins as a performer and bandleader. His selection of six R&B cover songs blended well with the two original songs that he sang. Nevertheless, his set would have been enhanced exponentially if he had also showcased his ability to play the guitar, piano, drums, bass and trumpet.