Tim Burgess and Lambchop – The Barbican, London 23/06/13

From the outset, this doesn’t feel like a typical Barbican gig. Perhaps it’s because, despite the massive stage, the various musical personnel group themselves together closely, like they’re playing a much more intimate venue than one of the UK’s pre-eminent music halls.

Perhaps it’s because Kurt Wagner, with his trucker cap and genial manner, has that classic Southern charm that instantly bridges the gap between the artist and the audience. Or perhaps, it’s simply due to the beautifully unostentatious nature of the music being performed tonight. Regardless, tonight would have been worth it just for the excellent 90 minute “warm up” to the main event.

To label Lambchop simply as an “alt-country” act would be selling them short; although that genre is their most prominent influence, they also fuse classic soul and orchestral elements to produce their restrained, but thoroughly gorgeous sound. Bass, drums, keyboards, grand piano and a variety of woodwind instruments are all thrown into the mix tonight, but the orchestration is delivered with a commendably light touch, accentuating Wagner’s distinctive voice without distracting from it.

In many ways, they have the feel of The Magnetic Fields about them, if Stephin Merritt had only grown up listening to Conway Twitty and Harold Melvin rather than Bertolt Brecht. Tim Burgess and his luminescent, mushroom-like coiffure make an appearance for a couple of songs, but it’s a strangely awkward experience, his faltering voice and nervousness at odds with Wagner’s quiet assurance. But his love for the band is clearly heartfelt, and on the evidence here, very much understandable.

Thankfully, Burgess’ self-consciousness seems to largely evaporate when he starts his own set, based around a series of songs written in collaboration with Wagner. It’s initially slightly underwhelming, with Burgess’ own musicians rather leaden in comparison to Lambchop, but the addition of a string quartet gives the performance a much needed shot in the arm, and by the time we get to the finale of ‘A Gain’, complete with some truly wonderful gospel backing, this unlikely transatlantic partnership finally blooms into the true brilliance that had only previously been hinted at.