Friday, August 4, 2017

Live Shows: Nikki Lane, Prescott Park Arts Festival, Portsmouth, NH 8/2/17

Photo by Ken Sears
Nikki Lane has been one of the artists I've always appreciated and liked, but was never completely into her. When I saw that she was playing the Prescott Parks Arts Festival this year, I decided that would be one of the shows I made it to. It ended up being one of the better musical decisions I've made in years.

Playing with her backing band the Tennessee Dirtbags, Nikki Lane played two fantastic sets of her fairly poppy style of outlaw country. Only a small handful of the crowd seemed familiar with Lane's work, with most of the audience more there out of curiosity and something to do on a beautiful August night. (I'm sure the $8 suggested donation brings in a lot more people than an ordinary show, too.) That and the public park setting caused a fairly subdued crowd, spending the entire show sitting on blankets. That didn't faze Lane at all, as she played amazing versions of new songs like "700,000 Rednecks" and "Highway Queen." Older favorites like "Right Time" received an appreciative response from the crowd when they
Photo by Ken Sears
were introduced.

The first set was definitely the highlight. It could have been that Lane changed the setlist at the last minute, so the band were kept more fresh and seemed to be having a great time. Nikki Lane and the Tennessee Dirtbags struggled a bit to capture the magic during the second set. It started off with Lane plagued by guitar issues, to which she blamed the sea air in Portsmouth. I'm not sure if it was because of technical issues, the two hours of total playing time, or if it's a usual part of their show, but Lane left for a bit and let her guitar player (who I apologize to for forgetting his name) sing a few songs. This isn't meant as a negative on him, but he doesn't quite have the stage presence or vocal chops of Lane.
Photo by Ken Sears

The thing that must be mentioned with any discussion of a Nikki Lane show is how much natural charisma she has. A lot of musicians can get chatty between songs and slow the momentum of the show to a screeching halt. With Lane, you just want to hear more of her stories. Whether she's introducing songs about her divorce and bad roommate situations or praising the lobster rolls in the northeast, it just made you love her show more. Hearing the stories behind her songs makes you listen to the songs more closely. That's a rare quality in a performer.

For the second set closer, Lane played the repeatedly requested "Jackpot Queen." Maybe it's just a tradition at Prescott Park shows this year, but that finally brought a crowd down to dance in the front of the stage. Lane seemed so thrilled by this that they ended up playing two more songs, including a Bob Dylan cover (covers by Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings came during the first set.) Lane even jumped off the stage to dance with a few members of the audience at the end of the final song. She is simply an artist you need to experience live.

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