Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lambchop's low key approach holds hometown crowd spellbound

There is nothing like a homecoming. Especially in a city like Nashville.

Nashville's long standing alt-country heroes Lambchop wrapped up their latest tour with a show in their hometown, and it couldn't have felt more like home.

Lambchop's leader, Kurt Wagner, takes a unique approach to his song craft. Most of what he does is extremely subtle. He weaves an unusual blend of alt-country, lounge music, and soul in a compelling fashion, but if you aren't paying attention you're bound to miss the meat of his message. That might explain why the packed crown at VFW Post 1970 listened in near silence Saturday night. You really can't afford to miss a word he says.

Lambchop's Kurt Wagner lays down a mean lick during his May 12 show at VFW Post 1970.

Their latest album Mr. M, which released in February, sounds like fancy, rich man's parlor music, but Wagner gives it a kick in the ass. Consider "If Not I'll Just Die," which is very proper sounding, wine and jazz type music. But when Wagner drops an F-bomb on the very first line, you quickly get the picture that this affair isn't quite going to play out the way you thought.

Wagner's folksy delivery sparkled as he led us through the majority of the Mr. M album. The keyboard and organ added a barely noticeable coloring to the music, while the bass and drums are probably the most noticeable elements after Wagner's mellow timbre. The music is designed to sound like everyone's doing their own thing, but obviously there's much more to it than that. Then, in the rare moments when the entire eight-piece band comes together, it will blow you away.

Some of the night's best tunes included "Gone Tomorrow," the best representation of aforementioned instrumentation, "Mr. Met," which features some of Wagner's most insightful lyrics, and "Buttons," which showcases Wagner's offbeat sense of humor. The song tells the story of a bullheaded man down on his luck. But it drew a chuckle from the audience for its most caustic verse, in which Wagner derides the song's subject for landing a girl and driving her away, before admitting that he is just as big a prick himself.

I also discovered that I'm becoming a big fan of Scott Martin's drumming style. He specializes in gentle brushstrokes, which discreetly but unquestionably provides its own flavor to the music. It's just so chill. And he possesses a  special ability to move all around the kit with various fills and rolls, all while perfectly playing off the rest of the band.

William Tyler's mellow playing energizes Lambchop.
After finishing off the Mr. M songs, Kurt and crew got a little more talkative. His pianist engaged in a bit of banter, Courtney Tidwell got a chance for a vocal show off, while Wagner exhibited more of his patented humor.

"We're going to play a few more songs," Wagner announced. "Then I can start drinking."

The venue itself was rather small and cramped. It was obviously a pretty old building, and the white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling made it feel like the kind of place that might host your 20 year high school reunion.

But the tight confines gave a special feel to the evening, as though being a part of the crowd made you a small part of a much larger collective on hand to witness an extraordinary performance. The only real negative was that my head was swimming by the end of the night due to the overabundance of cigarette smoke.

The Altered Statesmen opened the night with a brief 30 minute set. Steve Poulton warmed up the crowd with a soulful 50s style croon. It reminded me of music you would hear at a Las Vegas wedding reception. Not bad, per se, but ehhh. Not really my thing.

There was one other really nice touch. After the show, Wagner was standing outside the front door, thanking patrons for coming out to see his show. He proves he's not only a first rate performer, but a real class act to boot.

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