Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner has a singular vision, and there’s no mistaking a performance by his Nashville crew for that of any other band.---
That’s a great thing if you are a fan of Wagner’s languid blend of country, soul, R&B and folk music, but it’s also a divisive vision that Wagner pursues with his music—there aren’t a lot of casual Lambchop fans. You’re either on board, or else you probably find Lambchop’s music, both on record and live in concert, a rather narcotic beast.
I’m definitely on board with Wagner’s style, especially after Sunday
night’s sparsely attended show at The State Room. It’s probably not a good idea for any band to play its first-ever Salt Lake City show on a Sunday
night; even a band with nearly two decades of music-making under its collective belt will have a hard time drawing a crowd under those circumstances. So it was Sunday
, when maybe 100 people showed up to see Wagner do his thing.
In truth, I doubt the Lambchop show would have been any different even if the venue had been filled to capacity. Wagner and his four supporting players—a drummer, bassist, guitarist/keyboardist and piano player—stretched across the stage, all of them sitting except the bass player, and delivered a consistently moody, atmospheric set that stretched past the 90-minute mark. The pristine sound of the room was perfect for Lambchop’s orchestral-pop vibe; the band sounded excellent throughout the show.
One nod to the small audience might have been Wagner’s decision to start the show by playing Lambchop’s new album, Mr. M
, in its entirety. While that might have frustrated some long-time Lambchop fans, it actually proved a wise decision, given that the band was certainly engaged with the new material, bringing songs like “If Not I’ll Just Die,” “2B2” and “Buttons” to vivid, if mellow, life.
Wagner’s voice is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen or Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, a laconic, deep drawl with just a touch of the twang from the band’s Tennessee hometown. And his lyrics are as lacerating and full of dark humor as both those men. “The Good Life (Is Wasted),” one of Sunday
’s highlights, featured Wagner’s best vocal performance of the night. Impressively, the instrumental tune “Gar” was also a highlight, with Wagner’s band showing some serious skills on their respective musical tools.
Wagner didn’t say a word between songs as the band made its way through Mr. M
, but as soon as they completed the album’s tunes, he started chatting up the crowd, even taking requests (sort of—he didn’t agree to necessarily play said requests) and asking the audience to stick around for a couple of more tunes after a quick jaunt to the bathroom. Those on hand were respectfully silent during the songs -- quiet enough that the slightest murmur could cause the loss of a lyric or lick-- and the audience was rapt enough to want to hear everything.
Whether or not Lambchop will come back to Salt Lake City, who knows? It did take Wagner and Co. nearly 20 years to get here. But he seemed genuinely happy with the reception offered by the small audience, so maybe Lambchop will return—if they do, make it part of your schedule.
Opening act The Folka Dots have no issues drawing a crowd, as the maturing local roots crew continues to kill with their live shows. Sunday night was no exception, with the three-part harmonies and diverse acoustic instrumentation providing an apt opening set for Lambchop’s twisted brand of country. Songs like “Black Crow,” “High Water” and “Workday Shuffle” all were excellent, and the voices of Corinne Gentry, Marie Bradshaw and Kiki Sieger blended wonderfully in The State Room. Can’t wait to hear that gospel album The Folka Dots are making with The Trappers.