Lambchop @ Badlands
w/ The Jaycos and Felicity Groom
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Paring down their usual country soul mini-orchestra set up to a three-piece, Nashville icons Lambchop’s first Perth show in 12 years at Badlands was a true masterclass in the art of sonic reinvention and subtlety. While most acts would have chosen to play it safe in their comfort zone and gone for the full bells and whistles treatment for maximum impact, Lambchop’s decision to forgo the easy option and opt for an experimental, minimalist approach instead revealed a quality act that was bold and brave enough to take risks onstage in a bid to keep things interesting – not just for themselves but for their audience as well.
On the night, Lambchop played so very quietly – like a jazz trio jamming softly in a hotel lounge after hours – that it was almost impossible to do anything else but concentrate on the music. And for those that were able to resist the urge to get beered up and natter away loudly as per normal during the performance, they were rewarded with some ultra chilled out renditions of songs pulled mainly from the band’s latest long player FLOTUS that ebbed and flowed in organic, soothing fashion.
Stripped down to the max, main man Kurt Wagner – singing through a vocal processor and strumming on a vintage guitar turned down so low, the sound coming out of its amp resembled ambient noise more than guitar chords – was augmented on stage by bass, courtesy of the nimble-fingered Matt Swanson, and Tony Crow on elegant piano flourishes, humourous on-stage banter and salty jokes. Hushed laptop beats and muted string samples provided the rest in terms of sonic colour.
In this configuration, the likes of Writer, The Hustle, JFK and Directions To The Can were wholly immersive, autotuned journeys into some of the standout moments from FLOTUS. As deconstructed as these songs were on the night, their evocative lyrical content and persuasive melodies still managed to come across in impressive fashion. Talk about a quiet riot.
For the diehards, choice chestnuts from the band’s ample back catalogue like Gone Tomorrow and 2B2, both from the band’s 2012 album Mr M, were also given the electronic streamlined treatment with Wagner throwing out vivid lyrical imagery and impassioned soulful crooning like an autotuned Aaron Neville. To hear these songs played so differently was most enjoyable.
Providing able support on the night were two local acts, The Jaycos and Felicity Groom. The Jaycos recalled Wilco in their early AM and Being There alt-country incarnation, all strummed acoustic open chords, melodic two-part harmonies and twangy Telecaster licks. The venue was less than half full when The Jaycos took to the stage but those who there to catch their act seemed to enjoy what they heard from the band and responded in kind.
Less popular with the early arrivals was Felicity Groom, who’s mixed bag set up of analogue and digital sounds combined ended up confusing more than it entertained. Groom sings in suitably angelic fashion and has memorable songs in her repertoire but needs to work on how to fuse her electronic and acoustic elements in a more seamless fashion. As it stands, it all feels a bit forced with the songs sounding a lot better when they were either in a digital format or acoustic guitar based.
Which made Lambchop’s onstage sonic reinvention on the night all the more impressive as they managed to get their blend of the analogue and the digital just right and sounding like the most natural thing in the world. No mean feat indeed.
Photos by Elle Dalziell