Lambchop – Bath – Bath Pavilion, England – 2004-04-19

Where: Bath – Bath Pavilion, England.

When: 2004-04-19

On the last night of yet another near sold-out tour of the UK, you might have expected the collective Lambchop mood to have been pitched somewhere just above that of a triumphant premier-league football team at the end of a successful season. But then this is Lambchop we’re talking about; Lambchop doesn’t do triumphalism or bombast, Lambchop just does well, erm… Lambchop. Which means opening with the gossamer glide of “My Blue Wave” (from 2002’s midnight moods collection Is a Woman) with Kurt Wagner sat hunched over his battered electric whilst the seven-strong incarnation of his constantly reshuffled band strum, patter, and tinkle in the background around him. Close your eyes for a while and you find yourself, not in the grandiose village-hall-meets-school-assembly-room of Bath Pavilion, but sat in the backyard of Wagner’s Nashville home, with the band on the porch peeling back, layer-by-layer, the hushed highlights from Is a Woman and this year’s twofer coupling Aw Cmon and No You Cmon.

Barely a crochet or quaver is spilt by the band’s beatific and textured playing, aside from when a brief blast of unexpected discordance hit home on the ragged Velvets-like rocker “Nothing Adventurous Please” and on the unexpectedly climatic conclusion to “The New Cobweb Summer.” That’s a largely one-track approach that was both Lambchop’s undoing and raison d’être on this uncharacteristically warm spring night.

Musically, Lambchop was meticulously well measured. Fusing a beguiling brand of somnambulant soul, plaintive country and barroom blue moods, it’s still a wonder – nay even a shock and a travesty – that the band remains such an outcast oddity in their homeland given its collective loyalty to America’s rich musical heritage. Songs-wise, too, Wagner is way up on his game, refracting mundane situations (“Nothing But a Blur From a Bullet Train”) through his weary but witty lyrical lexicon and celebrating the love buried within friendships old and new (“Something’s Going On”) without resorting to schmaltz or sappiness.

But of course you can have too much of a nice thing, and the performance began to drag a little as the eight people on stage barely broke into a sweat – though the aforementioned ‘rockers’ and pianist Tony Crow’s between-song comedy banter with Wagner did help to break the sedate song cycle a tad. Throughout the set, musical tempos regularly lagged behind the drinking-rate of the motormouths jabbering behind your writer’s row of seats. The overt reliance on the last three albums for the set-list didn’t help matters, with no heart-warming numbers resurrected from say I Hope You’re Sitting Down/Jack’s Tulips or What Another Man Spills, in the name of eclecticism if nothing else. Variety, it seems, isn’t the spice of life for Lambchop outside of the studio.

But such sniping is perhaps missing the point of the Lambchop live experience, because as was suggested before, it isn’t about playing up to expectations or romping through the ‘hits’. It’s about creating the ambience of the band’s hearth and home, thousands of miles away from the real one. Sometimes it sustains itself all night, sometimes it struggles, but it always makes sure you feel welcome and warm to the core. It’s a feeling worth clinging to in these increasingly cold hard times.