The Turning Gem

Music, Film, Family

Outlaw Country in Detroit w/ Nikki Lane

Event: Nikki Lane – Denim & Diamonds Tour

Venue: El Club – Detroit, MI

Date: December 12, 2022

Artists Performed: Jaime Wyatt, Nikki Lane

I’m a heavy metal guy these days. It is the music that speaks the loudest to the parts of me that crave connection. This hasn’t always been the case, especially during my twenties and thirties when songwriting played the most significant role in how I understood the world. One of my favorite artists from that time of my life is Jason Pierce of the band Spiritualized. I last saw them perform in 2012, with opening act Nikki Lane.

At the time she had only one album out (Walk of Shame, 2011), and though Spiritualized has always had a slight country/soul disposition, it’s doubtful anyone in that room expected the kind of tunes Nikki Lane was laying down. It was just Nikki singing with a beautiful dark Koa wood acoustic guitar, and she was spectacular.

As time moved on, and my musical tastes became progressively heavier, my patience for country music became slight. Anyone who knows me at all will appreciate the gravity of that understatement, but there have always been a handful of country artists I’d go to the mat for. Old schoolers like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton, and relatively new artists like Chris Stapleton, Cody Jinks, and Alison Krauss. These are the singers who come to mind when I think of Nikki Lane. An outlaw sensibility with angelic undertones, not to mention a close association with Jason Peirce, made me an incontrovertible fan. Even though admittedly I didn’t listen to her often.

Two albums released in 2022 that turned this trend around: Everything Was Beautiful by Spiritualized, and Denim & Diamonds by Nikki Lane*. I was substantially excited by both for very specific reasons. Spiritualized always gets high marks from me, but Everything Was Beautiful has a song called “Crazy” featuring Nikki Lane on vocals (listen here). And Nikki’s new record was produced by Josh Homme from Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, which provided a metal connection too sweet to ignore. Naturally, when I heard she was coming to Detroit, I was enthusiastic, if not slightly hesitant to travel outside my comfort zone. That’s what it’s all about, though, isn’t it?

El Club is a small, hole-in-the-wall kind of place with promising charm. The crowd was varied. Mostly 30-something hipster’s on dates, a hand full of chap-wearing ladies drinking White Claw, and dudes in trucker hats. I felt slightly out of place with my heavy metal beanie and Imperial Triumphant t-shirt, but nobody seemed to notice. The house music was unusually depressing for the occasion. End-of-the-night kind of stuff. Songs like “Run Honey Run” by John Martyn, “Wayside/Back in Time” by Gillian Welch, and “Southern Nights” by Allen Toussaint. It did afford people the opportunity to talk to each other, which is usually terribly difficult at rock and metal shows, but I didn’t quite understand the rationale behind playing such down-tempo music at the start of the evening.

When the lights went down to signal the start of the show, out walked Jaime Wyatt; a small, thin young woman dressed in black with a contrasting white cowboy hat. Her Gibson Deluxe was slightly large for her frame, but when she started to sing the only thing that mattered was the sound of her voice. I immediately understood why the house music colored the atmosphere with such melancholy. This woman was a storyteller, and all of the music leading up to her performance were story-telling songs. I supposed that was something all country songs had in common, but not everybody can tell a story like Jaime Wyatt.

Throughout her short six-song set she told us about spending time in jail, the hardships of trying to find work as a result, the significance of her relationship with friend and producer Shooter Jennings, and the deeply personal and often hilarious songwriting process. She told us she was “happily gay,” having recently come out, but this wasn’t glib information designed to somehow harden her outlaw edge. Rather it was a spot-on preface to her beautiful cover of “She Thinks I Still Care” by George Jones.

Like the tattoos on her arms, Jaime Wyatt wore each song with pride, marking every moment of her performance with heartfelt honesty. Perhaps the greatest example of this was “Giving Back the Best of Me” from her debut album Felony Blues.

This was my introduction to Jaime Wyatt. To say she made an impression would be dramatically underplaying the truth of the matter, which reminds me an awful lot of the way Nikki Lane showed up in my life. Funny how things go, ain’t it?

Nikki Lane walked on stage to booming applause, partially due to Jaime Wyatt‘s warm-up of the crowd, which I suspect Nikki was counting on. It’s hard to imagine her expecting any less after the two of them had been on tour together for two and a half months. But the room, now close to packed, was not shy about their love for Nikki Lane even before she played a note.

She opened with “Highway Queen,” “700,000 Rednecks,” and “Send the Sun” from the Highway Queen album. Boom, boom, boom, and the energy lit up the room. Lane’s stage banter began right away, as she pointed out a woman in the front row.

“Now, you know you’re not supposed to dress better than the bride on her wedding day,” she said with her southern drawl and road-worn sense of humor, “What’s this jacket? Can I wear it for a few songs?” The woman with the jacket was starstruck and I thought for sure she was going to hand Nikki her jacket right then and there. Exchanges like this happened all through the set, and at absolutely perfect moments… just when the room needed a little extra shot of infectious country charm. Nikki Lane read that room like a children’s book, knowing precisely when to break out a specific tune.

After playing a few songs from All or Nothin’, including the title track, “Right Time,” and “You Can’t Talk to Me Like That,” Nikki thought it was time to pick things up a little bit. “I don’t know where The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is from,” she said, “but we play this one to sus out who we’re gonna hang out with after the show.” The band went into “Fishing in the Dark,” the crowd lit up again and some started dancing by the bar.

She sang seven songs from the new album, which all went over well. “First High,” “Black Widow,” and “Denim & Diamonds” were particularly well-received. As were cover versions of “Drunken Angel” by Lucinda Williams, and “Why You Been Gone So Long” by Jessi Colter. Jaime Wyatt came back out to sing with Nikki on the Jessi Colter tune, and damn that was fun to hear!

The whole night was a good time, and I can’t help but think that I’ve really been missing out by staying away from country gigs, and performances by singer-songwriters and storytellers. The metal world deals a lot with fantasy, horror fiction, personal mental inadequacy, and historical atrocities. Deep, deep stuff on levels many find offputting, but while the subject matter in country music is much lighter in way of lyrical content, the way folks like Nikki Lane and Jaime Wyatt sing these songs doesn’t make them any less heavy emotionally. In fact, without hiding meaning behind layers of sound and complicated cadence, I’d say the outlaw country songs might carry more weight.

Now, I’m not planning on quitting my love of heavy metal concerts any time soon, but I’ve gotta tell ya… I’m absolutely going to check out more shows that feature simpler songs and acoustic instruments. Yes, and at places I’ve never been before, with people that exist way outside my bubble, and as often as I can manage. Believe me, you’ll be reading about more of these kinds of shows here in The Turning Gem.

Nikki Lane‘s Denim & Diamonds Tour ended on December 18th in Des Moines, Iowa. A recent Instagram post showed a bed full of dogs with the caption “Came home to a pile of pets.” I’ll bet that felt awesome for her, and she sure earned that moment of home comfort. I’ll look forward to hearing more from Nikki Lane when she decides to come out of hibernation. Here’s hoping she brings Jaime Wyatt with her.

*Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of these links, The Turning Gem will receive a small portion of the proceeds, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.


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