Kurt Wagner – Vicar Street Venue (Dublin, Ireland)
Anyone who has ever seen Lambchop in concert will know what an extraordinary sight it is. Thirteen musicians playing an assortment of instruments, mixing country, soul and rock. Often such overflowing undertakings result in a wishy-washy mess that pleases no one. Certainly country fans tend to prefer the “less is more” approach. With Lambchop however, more is actually more. The guiding force behind Lambchop is singer and writer Kurt Wagner; given that he’s usually surrounded by a veritable orchestra, it’s an intriguing departure to see him on his own.
Tonight, as always, he performs sitting down, a habit he has claimed in interviews began because he was so tired from his day-job fitting floors. Wagner naturally sings with a heavy drawl (not unlike Vic Chesnutt, with whom Lambchop has collaborated), but he pulls off an impressively soulful falsetto on “You Masculine You”. His lyrics are never banal, whether describing a funeral where “all the mourners traveled in one car” or telling how “The neighbors have been drinking/And they’re raising quite a stink/Pretty soon they will be fighting” on the excellent “Nashville Parent”.
The show mainly consists of little-known delights such as “The New Cobweb Summer” and “My Blue Wave”. Indeed, “Nashville Parent” is one of only three songs he performs from Nixon, the Lambchop record that ended up in many critics’ 2000 best-of lists. On some songs he is accompanied by a variety of sounds emanating from a tape deck beside his seat. One tape contains his own voice speaking; on another is a kind of mechanical screeching. These sounds do not continue unabated throughout a song, but start and stop at moments you don’t expect. Using backing tapes during a live concert is often a mistake, but Wagner uses them so sparingly and with such subtlety, they add an interesting variety to the music.
Wagner’s arrival in Dublin coincided with that of a slightly more famous American, Bill Clinton, who was on the last foreign visit of his presidency. “Up With People” was dedicated to “all the Bills and Hillarys.”
Leaving the stage to thunderous applause, he returns almost immediately for an encore. “I like to get that bit over with,” he says with a smile before finishing with a relative oldie, “The One”, which features the lines, “It’s just my wish that our world be that of reproductive bliss/It’s just a thought/There’s no pressure.”