LIVE REVIEW: Nikki Lane @ The El Rey

FEATURES|Show Reviews

Date night in Los Angeles usually means carefully ripped jeans, soft grey t-shirts, and expensive jewelry that says “I’m not trying too hard.” The crowd at Nikki Lane’s show got the memo and sent it right back. Retro cowboy attire was out in full force, leading to a lot of wide-brimmed hat ducking throughout the night.

The lineup had changed a few times in the days leading up to the show. Unfortunately, my date & I were still eating empanadas next door when Jenny O. went onstage. Jonathan Tyler greeted us at the door with a cover of “I’m A Pilgrim;” Tyler’s band, The Northern Lights, normally give the hymn an upbeat, southern gospel feel, but this night the cover was a much more laid back affair – just a man and his guitar. Without the full band, Tyler shelved the majority of his southern rock catalogue and focused his energy on standards and stripped-down renditions of old favorites. A highlight in the evening was a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” a tune that always seems to garner a quiet hum from an audience. Nikki Lane’s band joined Tyler onstage for the last few songs, a welcome reprieve from the more somber set.

The show was something of a homecoming for Nikki Lane, who fled the LA’s fashion scene to make a country album in Nashville. Looking out over a packed El Rey, she marveled,”This is the most people who’ve come to see me play in my entire career.” The soft, mellow notes of “Highway Queen” eased the crowd into Lane’s world of Marlboro Lights, blacktop, and tight blue jeans. Lane stood confidently in an embroidered white suit adorned with slot machines and rolling dice. The night was a mixture of music and backstory: at 17, she dropped out of school; at 18, she almost financed a washing machine in North Carolina; at 20, she was living in California pursuing a fashion career; at 28, she was getting drunk in Brooklyn, New York, thinking about making an album. The rest, as they say, is history. The self-proclaimed “Queen of Outlaw Country” went on to make three successful records, beginning with Walk of Shame in 2011, following it up with All or Nothin’ in 2014, and finally releasing Highway Queen in February of this year.

“This next one’s called ‘Man Up.’ It’s about kicking my ex-husband in the ass,” Lane chuckled, glancing over with a blush at her tour mate Tyler, who also happens to be her new beau. The chemistry between Tyler and Lane was so electric I found myself furiously googling “Nikki Lane new boyfriend” before Lane had a chance to call it out herself. Their duet “To Love Is To Fly” slowed the evening down nicely, everyone watching with unabashed excitement as the couple sang cheek-to-cheek.

Lane did her best to keep the crowd on their toes; “Sleep with a Stranger,” for instance, got everyone dancing in the aisles. The show ran a little slow for me at times, as many of Lane’s songs hit a similar note when played back-to-back. In spite of that, it a perfect date-night concert, full of playful banter and bolstered by a rowdy, boot-wearing crowd. “Jackpot,” Nikki’s love letter to Tyler, finished out the night. I could still hear the lyrics as we jumped into our Lyft: “True love don’t come til you lay it all down the line…”

Nikki Lane’s tour is in full swing. Check out all upcoming dates on her website.

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