In 2011, Nikki Lane put out a record that immediately garnered attention. Walk of Shame grabbed the scruff of your neck and poured its way into your ears, a catchy confessional-style album filled with halting narratives and hooky tracks. Pretty melodies and harmonic vocals were balanced by lyrical voyages into the travails of love and betrayal. Lane’s slightly flat (in a good way) delivery creates a layer of dischordance above old-time country tracks with a processional, pop sensibility. Her ability to vocalize in a slightly lower part of the register and with a slightly-between-notes sound feels fresh despite an allegiance to vintage country vignettes.
As she takes the stage at Washington, D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel on this Friday night in early May, the drums are almost as high in the mix as the skintight jeans on her waist. With a willowy frame and high-heeled booties, she looks more Los Angeles than Nashville — like a Langley Fox instagram photo — but her charming southern drawl provides a more accurate depiction of her musical roots.
The drums’ volume is a less permanent condition than Lane’s affection for high-waisted jeans, and the mix quickly falls into line. Matt Stoessel looks like he was brought in to play pedal steel from central casting, and his parts provide perhaps the most direct connection to the old school country vibe that characterized Lane’s first LP. Her aforementioned vocals are only slightly behind the guitar in that regard, offering up a contrast between demure flickers of approachability and an unapproachable adorability that together help create a winsome stage presence.
It’s immediately clear that her bassist — pulling a double-shift tonight is The Whigs‘ Tim Deaux — is referencing sheet music, and Lane offers up a compliment: the band is finally sounding as good as she expects. Deaux is a short-term and first-time addition, filling in admirably as they wait for Eric Whitman to join in on the next leg of her (headlining) tour.
Lane often exhibits a fantastically unpredictable harmonious interplay with backing vocalist (and occasional tambourinist) Erika Wolf. Theirs is something of a high/low interaction, Lane’s vintage, highly-stylized and curated clothing also in contrast to Wolf’s “High Society Smoke Shop” halter top and thick, curly mane. Sometimes they sound off with pure auditory beauty, other times their combined sound hints at the struggles and challenges of our lives and times.
Having started primarily with ballads, mostly new tracks, she offers up an unrecorded one. It’s been a year and a half since she was in the studio with The Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach, and she seems gratified that her work will finally see the light of day and eager to release even more. Her warm-up gig for The Whigs is also serving as a warm-up of sorts for her upcoming tour supporting the new record, a series of dates supporting Old 97s sandwiched in-between.
The songs from her new album, All or Nothin’, are at their best when she winks at societal mores, her personalized approach to sexual politics is highly alluring and more captivating than the blatant, look-at-me strategy deployed by pop stars like Miley Cyrus. With songs like “Right Time” and “Sleep With a Stranger,” she references a wild side that emerges without notice, her implied unpredictability adding excitement and tension.
The band burns through some of the more-well known cuts off her debut, forced to skip many great songs in an abbreviated set. After a premature conclusion to the performance — they somehow skipped over a song — they went back and and corrected the omission. It’s a moment perhaps symbolic of the dilemma facing musicians these days; it’s easy to be forgotten amidst the cacophony of the digital world. Lane attempts to bridge that divide, the vinyl-devotee offering up songs that pay homage to the past while embracing the present with a social media presence that offers a consistent, holistic aesthetic. If she keeps crafting songs this catchy, it seems safe to say that growing audiences won’t forget her or her music anytime soon.