The Showgoer is a regular column in which our editor in chief reports from the live scene in New York on artists from around the world.
Who: Nikki Lane
Where: Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY
When: Tuesday, June 24, 2013
“This song is about a girl who was acting like an extremely big cunt.” That was how Nikki Lane introduced one song early in her set at Brooklyn’s Union Pool on Tuesday night. Here’s another: “This song is about being stoned and miserable.” So it went for the duration of Lane’s rollicking, hour-and-change performance, blasts of boisterous, boot-stomping honky-tonk punctuated by ribald asides from the woman singing them. “My fans are good-looking,” she marveled at one point. “Some real tiny clothes up front. It’s distracting.”
Lane’s banter is as much a part of her m.o. as her songs, the best of which cast her as an unabashed hedonist, gamely rolling from one thrill to the next. Part of the joy of the excellent, just-released All or Nothin’ is in hearing the matter-of-fact way in which Lane recounts her R-rated adventures. There’s no shame in her actions, nor — thankfully — is there any regret. Life is one long, thrilling amble through happy transgressiona. She lays out her philosophy plainly in its opening track: “It’s always the right time to do the wrong thing.”
The album — produced by Dan Auerbach in a way that smartly accentuates its rough edges — faces a curious conundrum. It’s not quite commercial enough to position Lane alongside mainstream upstarts like Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert — which, in truth, is where she belongs — and not quite alt- enough to satiate the typically traditionalist alt-country crowd. At her show on Tuesday, the gorgeous ballad “Good Man” — replete with weeping lap steel and a rich, smoky vocal — sounded like a lost Tammy Wynette ballad. “Man Up” — its regrettable word choice and atypically regressive message aside — had the spark and fire of prime Gretchen Wilson. And while country singers of both genders have long embraced the character of the pleasure-seeking rebel, there was something appealingly outsized and performative about the way Lane assumed the role. It recalled the kind of theatrical salaciousness of the femmes fatale of ’30s noir films, each sneaky double entendre delivered with a stage wink to make sure the point wasn’t lost. She expressed her love of marijuana so frequently during the show it was a wonder no one got a contact high just from listening to her.
She paired these confessions with country music that had genuine swing. The band locked repeatedly into deep, swiveling grooves that hoisted Lane’s chalky alto upward like a child on a playground swing. Her music is built for dancing: “Sleep With a Stranger” — a song that’s about exactly what you’d think it’s about — was a see-sawing square dance delivered from the hips, its cadence loose and limber and terrifically elastic.
“We’re just about to drive to Boston,” Lane announced at the show’s end, “And it had better be as cool as this, or I’m gonna be pissed.” Chances are that, knowing Lane, if it isn’t, they’ll hear about it.