Even when pared down to a trio, Lambchop is still a band. And despite Kurt Wagner’s apparent preference for Martini over beer he is still a man’s man, according to pianist Tony Crow. Warming to this theme from his position behind the baby grand, Crow describes him as “a mountain of a man” which given Wagner’s constant presence in the Nashville collective’s 25 year history and the principal and significant contribution he has made to their music over the years this is not just some idle boast.
For 90 minutes tonight the two men, alongside another long-time Lambchop contributor Matt Swanson on bass guitar, create a transcendental sound that blurs the boundaries between country, soul, R&B, electronica, hip-hop and avant-garde jazz. The end result is astonishing, revolutionary in its execution and it transports us to some uncharted place on higher spiritual ground. The myriad of spots splintering from the huge mirror ball as it slowly spins on its axis above the Brudenell stage merely adds to the cosmic nature of this entire experience.
Three songs in and Lambchop have complete lift off. Already foreshortened from its original 18-minute duration on Flotus (last year’s groundbreaking album and the 12th in total in what was already a most innovative Lambchop canon) and here stripped of the lush strings that adorn its Unlimited 12” recreation, ‘The Hustle’ (a recent God Is In The TV Track of the Day) still manages to quickly reach cruising altitude. It is propelled along its flight path by the rolling cadence of Crow’s piano and the delicate shuffle of Wagner’s guitar, reaching a point where Philly soul is playing at a Quaker wedding. It is nothing short of astonishing.
In his trademark trucker’s cap, checked shirt and fawn slacks, Kurt Wagner is the antithesis of a rock star. For this opening night of a 12 date tour of the UK he stands centre-stage behind a range of electronic gadgetry that rests upon an old dilapidated leather suitcase. This juxtaposition of past and present may well be a visual metaphor for the set itself as it connects songs both old and new and continues down a long line of continual Lambchop evolution.
Whilst the trio do take us as far back in the Lambchop catalogue as ‘Garf’ (from their second album, the 1996 offering How I Quit Smoking), they understandably concentrate primarily on the more recent material from Flotus. And it is from that record that tonight’s absolute highlights emerge. With his vocals channelled through a voicebox machine (as it has been all evening) and with the additional expressive assistance of Auto-Tune, the pure emotion that he invests in set closer ‘Harbor Country’ is palpable. “Too much, too much, too much, too much”, Wagner sings, when in truth it is not nearly enough. You will the song to go on forever.
And then on the first encore, the majestic, epochal ’In Care Of 8675309’, Wagner asks “are these moments that are to be treasured?” Taken within the context of the gig itself, the answer to his question has to be a most unequivocal yes. They sign off with a remarkable cover of Prince‘s ‘When You Were Mine’. When I last saw Lambchop, at York’s Grand Opera House around the time of the Is A Woman album and when there must have been a dozen musicians on stage, it had been a sterile experience completely devoid of emotion, something that may well have owed just as much to the location as it did the band. Here tonight in the warm and more intimate surroundings of the Brudenell the Lambchop three-piece embrace spontaneous love and affection and produce a beautifully honest, ambitious, and exploratory performance that in 2017’s final analysis will surely see it ranked as not only one of the very best gigs of this year but also any other one too.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE