During a moment of silence between songs, a loud, slurred voice came from the back of the room. “Zooey Deschanel!” Everyone cringed. Sure, Nikki Lane bears more than a passing resemblance to the actress/singer/recent divorcee, but did it really need to be pointed out? “Wow,” she dryly replied. “I’ve never heard that one before! By the way, I had my bangs first.”
With that awkward moment averted, the set was underway again.
But in addition to being a total pro when it comes to crowd management, Lane also makes some damn fine country music. Outfitted with a Fender Jazzmaster that looked absolutely huge on her, she led her three-piece band, featuring a drummer and second guitarist, through 30 minutes of soulful throwback country. My only gripe about the whole set has to do with the band, which sounded a bit thin at times due to the lack of low end. Fortunately, this was never distracting enough to affect the set. “Baby, there’s something I just gotta tell you,” she cooed, successfully melting the hearts of pretty much everyone packed into Lincoln Hall (this “sold out” show looked to be a little oversold).
With the exception of a few people who recognized ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ (see video below), the majority of the audience came into this set completely blind. That being said, Lane’s confidence didn’t waver a bit, as she played to this crowd like they were hers.
After all, just as important as the songs is the way she presents herself, with wryly self-deprecating humor not unlike that of country legends like Dolly Parton. Between stories about thrift store shopping (she also runs a thrift store out of the tour van) and putting together her band, she tried to explain where she’s from, which can only be described as Nashville by way of New York by way of Los Angeles by way of South Carolina. She put it best when talking about Nashville: “I’m not from there, but I live there.” At that moment, a woman behind me remarked “Nashville? That explains why her voice is so…country…”
Well, that’s kind of the point, I suppose. Nikki Lane is on to something, delivering hipster-friendly country music with attitude to spare. Sure, she looks like Zooey, but you have to give her credit: she’s spunkier and more authentic than her more famous doppelganger will ever be.
Noah and the Whale, still touring behind last spring’s Last Night on Earth, seemed genuinely surprised at their following in Chicago. With the exception of their appearance at Lollapalooza in August, they hadn’t played a proper Chicago show since 2009, a fact frontman Charlie Fink apologized for right off the bat. He’s perfected the “charming Englishman” role, taking time between songs to deliver Hugh Grant-esque versions of typical rock show banter. My personal favorite example was when he replaced the typical “Hello Chicago!” with “I very rudely forgot to ask how you are doing…Are you well?”
They covered all of the bases, opening with ‘Give a Little Love’ from their 2008 debut. While the band was in fine form, one couldn’t help but miss Laura Marling’s presence on a number of the older songs, which just didn’t feel the same without her. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the new songs were some of the best performances. ’Life is Life’ and ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.’ were much stronger performances than some of their earlier, more popular Marling-dependent songs like ’5 Years Time’.
You get the feeling that the band is still adjusting to her departure, even though they still do their best to look confident. And they should, too. They’re touring in support of a great album. I guess the saying is true: one Marling don’t stop the show.
‘Gone, Gone, Gone’
‘Sleep For You’