Lambchop – Troubadour (Los Angeles, CA)
Watching Lambchop enter the room is kinda like watching that old circus gag where dozens of clowns pile out of a Volkswagen Beetle. As if the head count were infinite, band members just kept emerging from the staircase that drops down to the stage at the Troubadour. In fact there were so many ‘Choppers — a total of ten on this night, including fill-ins such as Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan (keyboards) and the Calexico duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino (cello and vibes, respectively) — that guitarist Marky Nevers was stranded in the darkness left of the stage for the duration of the set.
But in this particular outfit, size does not equal volume. Not even close. When Lambchop opened with the slow and dreamy “My Ass Your Face”, it was easy like Sunday morning. It was so quiet, in fact, that you could hear a pin drop — or a crowd chatter, as it were — in the packed club. Who knew a battalion of musicians armed with two guitars, pedal steel, saxophone, vibes, keyboards, cello, violin, bass and drums (courtesy WPA Ballclub’s Paul Burch) could make so little noise?
It’s precisely this bit of quiet presence, coupled with the group’s recent association with the perpetually hip Vic Chesnutt (they back him on his recent The Salesman And Bernadette) that has made this plenty obscure Nashville outfit an of-the-moment buzz band. Though they’re sometimes lumped into the alt-country category (the presence of a pedal steel will do that), Lambchop’s current vision is a frail and lilting bit of aural cinema that brings into the mix everything from R&B and folk to jazz skronk and alt-rock sonics, all of which frames the husky but slothful and sometimes falsetto tones of vocalist/guitarist Kurt Wagner.
It was all there at the Troubadour in a dizzying presentation that often allowed for both visual stimulation (notably Deanna Varagona’s strong presence as sax player/harmony vocalist and Burns’ considerable enthusiasm for his role as cello player, backup singer, hand-clapper and finger-snapper) and for much musical intrigue. The latter was often a game of “Where in hell did that sound come from?” Did that space-aged swathe that just sliced across an otherwise melancholy moment come from the keyboard-tickling hands of McCaughan, or the six-string tweaked by Nevers? Or from elsewhere?
Ultimately, the looseness of the project, coupled with the sheer size, makes Lambchop seemingly limitless in its textural possibilities. The hour-plus show, showcasing much of 1998’s What Another Man Spills as well as new cuts such as the soulfully soaring “Up With People”, demonstrated a band quite magical like R.E.M. once was a looong time ago, mesmerizing like classic Cowboy Junkies, and endearing quirky like, say, Cake. Not that Lambchop sounds like any of those artists; they are without a doubt rulers of their own mysterious world.